Ethiopia’s victory in Sunday’s crucial World Cup qualifier seemed harsh for Bafana Bafana, as the visitors dominated the majority of the match. However, Gordon Igesund’s charges did not take their chances and were eventually punished by a freak own goal.
Following Bernard Parker’s hapless attempt to clear a curling cross, Ethiopia packed their defense and showed the spirit which has seen them enjoy success for the past two years.
There was no lack of effort from Bafana Bafana. Playing on a tough surface, in front of passionate partisan fans and facing a team which is not used to losing at home created one of the most difficult situations Gordon Igesund has had to contend with. The team was on the brink of achieving the impossible, but Ethiopia rode on the wave of an expectant home crowd and prevailed.
Ethiopia’s hard running game was there for all to see in the opening stages, as they targeted debutant Tebogo Langerman as the weak link in South Africa’s defence.
Read more on Igesund: Bafana gave it their all against Ethiopia
The storm was calmed by South Africa and much like their performance against CAR, the visitors went into the lead through a clinical strike from Bernard Parker. The game should have been put to bed by Letsholonyane minutes later, but his finish lacked the composure shown by his Kaizer Chiefs teammate.
This was the turning point as Ethiopia struck back with one of their first chances. Kebede fired home after South Africa failed to defend responsibly, allowing the Ethiopians into the game once more.
Then came the moment which broke South Africa’s resolve. Parker’s own goal was a shock for the national side and they could not recover. Ethiopia had not created clear-cut chances but were somehow in the lead. It was a hard pill to swallow for Bafana Bafana as they had to try and conquer the home side’s resilient spirit.
This proved impossible as the Walia Ibex packed their defence and were helped by 23 000 fans urging them to hold onto the lead.
The game was not without controversy. It was brimming with aggressive tackles, some worthy of harsh punishment which did not arrive. Refereeing in such an environment is difficult but there was no consistency and a lack of control, the game itself is put into disrepute.
Itumeleng Khune’s frustration was noticeable during the match, as everything seemed to be going against Bafana Bafana. He reminded fans of the difficulties of playing in a hostile environment. He may have been making excuses for the loss, but the struggles were evident throughout the match.
Read more on Match Report: Ethiopia 2-1 South Africa
“I hope people from home saw what happens when you play away. Their goalkeeper kept going down [to waste time] and the ball boys kept throwing the balls away but when we play at home and I do that, it is a problem,” Khune said after the match.
“I get criticised by our own supporters so I hope they saw what’s happening when we play away.”
Bafana Bafana’s hopes may not be lost after Fifa announced that Ethiopia could be docked points for fielding an ineligible player against Botswana earlier this month.
This would give the national side an opportunity to qualify if Ethiopia loses against CAR in Bangui and Bafana Bafana defeat Botswana in their final group game. After a luckless encounter in Addis Ababa, perhaps South Africa deserves another chance to clinch a spot in the next round of qualification.