The South Africa senior men’s team returned to action as they took on Angola. Ahead of the clash much was said about Bafana head coach Stuart Baxter’s hopes for the side following hefty criticism that had been directed towards him following the team’s failed Fifa 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign.
Baxter, though, was hoping to answer many of his critics against Palancas Negras as he forged a strong starting XI with a unique blend of youth and experience. Baxter made several changes from the side which lost to Senegal with youngsters such as Reeve Frosler, French-based forward Lebo Mothiba and Phakamani Mahlambi given starts.
As expected the opening stanza of the game at the Levy Mwanawasa Stadium was a tightly contested affair with Angola enjoying the better of the game’s early possession stats. But as the half progressed, Bafana began to settle and came more into the game.
Mothiba had an early chance to open the scoring in the 17th minute. The 22-year-old found himself on the end of a superb cross by Frosler which was saved by the Angolan goalkeeper. Minutes later, the keeper would only watch on as Dean Furman’s drive flew agonisingly wide of the opposition’s goal.
Bafana were beginning to boss the game, and Mothiba was really proving a handful for Angola’s defence to deal with. But despite Bafana’s dominance, Angola remained dangerous. South Africa’s goalkeeper Darren Keet needed to be alert as he did well to deny Carmo’s long-range effort.
However, just after the half-hour mark, Keet would eventually be beaten as Buhle Mkhwanazi’s hospital back pass saw Djalma Campos open the scoring for Angola. The goal almost immediately saw Bafana back on the attack as Sifiso Hlanti struck an effort just over the bar, ending Bafana’s hopes of an equaliser before the half-time break.
Nonetheless with the resumption of the second half, Bafana would not have to wait long to level matters as Mothiba struck with a clever backheel on the 50 minute mark. The goal certainly did a lot to raise the intensity of the game, and Hlanti was proving to be a real nuisance down the wing as he almost put the ball on a plate for Mothiba a few minutes later, only for the keeper to intercept the cross.
With over an hour played, Bafana remained on the offensive and had a shout for a penalty waved away by the referee after Mahlambi was brought to the ground. The 20-year-old would eventually be withdrawn as Baxter threw on both Ryan Moon and Siphesihle Ndlovu 20 minutes from the end. The Maritzburg United attacker in particular was showing just why he has been so highly touted for the Premier Soccer League (PSL) Young Player of the Year Award as he dazzled the opposition through his movement on the ball.
Meanwhile, with time running out, Moon had an opportunity to complete the turnaround, but his header from a Themba Zwane corner went wide of target. While Bafana were giving their all in search of a winner, try as they did they could not find the breakthrough which meant that penalties were needed to see who would head into Saturday’s final.
After Angola missed their third penalty, Mothiba would eventually follow suit, but Keet would emerge the hero as he denied the Angolan penalty taker in sudden death, before Sibusiso Vilakazi wrapped up the day’s affairs, giving Baxter something to smile about.