Hugo Broos’ mission to qualify for the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) got off to the worst possible start after Bafana Bafana lost their opening qualifying match in Morocco on Thursday.
Despite going into the half-time break leading through Lyle Foster’s early goal, Bafana were outfoxed and outclassed as the Atlas Lions scored twice in the second half to snatch a 2-1 victory in Rabat.
World Cup-bound Morocco are ranked second on the continent and 24th in the world, while Bafana are rated 15th and 69th, respectively.
The gulf in the gap between the two teams showed as Youssef En-Nesyri scored early in the second half before Ayoub El-Kaabi broke South African hearts with a late winner.
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It is not an ideal start for Broos, who was adamant before the trip up north that only a win or a draw would be acceptable.
“They got a second goal so close to the end of the match, which was disappointing after we lost the ball in a simple way in a dangerous area,” the 70-year-old Belgian coach said after the match.
Even in a group reduced to three teams after Zimbabwe was banned by Fifa and subsequently disqualified from the qualifiers by CAF, Bafana will have no room for error in their back-to-back matches against Liberia in September.
Bafana will host the Lone Stars in Johannesburg on September 19 before trekking back to Morocco for the return leg on September 27.
Liberia have controversially chosen to play their qualifiers in Morocco. The move means Morocco will only have to travel away from home once – for their reverse fixture against South Africa in March next year.
“But, we showed some fight against a very strong Morocco team and that was good. Let’s hope we can win our two matches in September.”
The qualifying road had been made more difficult for Broos and the team after Safa failed to secure a practice match to keep Bafana active during the window left vacant by Zimbabwe.
Safa CEO Tebogo Motlanthe said the association had agreed with Iran for a friendly match but the western Asian team bailed out at the last minute.
This means Bafana players will be putting their feet up at home on Monday when other teams play the second round of qualifiers.
“From where we are standing, we had done all the paperwork with Iran where we were even requested to send over the passports of the players.
“But later, they came back and said they are unable to play. Of course, because of their late cancellation, we, unfortunately, do not have any friendly for this window period.
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“The coach has promised to submit his September programme, which will include friendly matches,” Motlanthe said.
Liberia, who were inactive on Thursday due to Zimbabwe’s absence, will start their qualifying campaign against Morocco in Casablanca on Monday.
Broos will be watching this match hoping for a draw as a win for either team will make it all the more difficult for Bafana.
Bafana are expected to arrive from Morocco, via Doha, on Saturday morning.