Bafana Bafana went into their final game in Group E with their mission rather clear-cut.
With just a point separating Bafana from a place in Egypt, anything but a defeat would see the Southern African nation advance.
However, Libya were not out of the running just yet as a victory would have seen them leapfrog Bafana and book their ticket to the Afcon.
This saw them come out guns blazing looking to put the away side under the cosh, while Bafana looked content to defend in the first half.
Darren Keet, who was given the thumbs up ahead of Ronwen Williams as Stuart Baxter looked to fill the void left by Itumeleng Khune, was tested early on, doing well to hold onto an awkward bouncing ball from Ahmad Benali.
It was a busy outing for Keet, who was tested on three occasions in the first half.
Baxter’s choice to also rope in a rather unfamiliar back-three with Sifiso Hlanti utilised as part of the central defensive trio and with Innocent Maela playing just ahead of him saw Bafana maintain a sense of solidity at the back but also allowed Libya to attack them as the gap between defence and attack was too great.
Meanwhile, it was certainly a testy afternoon for a rather stingy looking Bafana defence who had conceded just a single goal in their qualifying campaign prior to kick-off and although Khune was not part of the setup, Keet was earning his stripes.
He was undoubtedly the busier of the two keepers in the first half as Bafana struggled to deal with Libya’s set-pieces.
A loose ball found its way to Libyan attacker Ali Elmusrati just inside the box but Keet showed safe hands making a good save.
With 25 minutes played, Bafana began to find their feet in front of a rather hostile crowd in Sfax – Libya’s venue of choice due to the political unrest in their homeland.
Dean Furman and Kamohelo Mokotjo began to join in on the midfield battle, while Themba Zwane was showing some impressive touches.
However, Libya who had netted 15 goals heading into their final group game remained a threat.
Keet continued to enjoy an inspired half of football, and even when he was caught out by the highball on a rare occasion, he again came to the fore with a smart save.
With the half time whistle looming, the away side were showing some bright signs as Zwane’s effort was deflected past Libyan keeper Muhammad Nashnoush.
Bafana had never scored a goal in the final 15 minutes before the half in their 2019 Afcon qualifying campaign, and with chances limited due to the caginess of the encounter and Bafana’s pragmatic approach, both sides returned to the tunnel at the half-time goalless with Bafana just 45 minutes away from booking their ticket to Egypt.
There was time though for Keet to be tested just before the break, but again the Bidvest Wits shot-stopper made a sensational save to keep out a rasping shot from the edge of the box.
The second half saw Bafana shift up a gear with them playing higher up the field, and this change immediately paid dividends as Tau opened the scoring on the 50-minute mark.
The 24-year-old had the ball at his feet on the edge of the area and he showed sniper instincts as he rifled the ball home into the top corner.
Celebrations were almost short lived as Libya almost caught the Bafana defence napping but Keet got a strong hand to a powerful point-blank shot which saw the Libyan fans express their frustrations.
Libya had a remarkable record having scored 60% of their goals in the second half, and they needed two goals to ensure their passage.
This saw them throw on top scorer Anis Saltou with four goals, who won a penalty after Keet was adjudged to have raised his foot a bit too high as he went up to catch the high ball.
This led to a penalty which Ahmad Benali stepped up to the plate and executed with aplomb, creating for a nervy last 25 minutes.
But despite Bafana’s frustrations due to the penalty, Tau restored his side’s lead for the second time on the night with another scintillating effort that left the Libyan keeper with no chance, silencing the home fans.
Bafana were now firmly in the driver’s seat and in spite of their best efforts, Keet was standing tall and putting his name in the hat for a man of the match award as he kept Libya at bay.
With Bafana having one step in the finals, Tau had a chance to wrap up a famous win, but he somehow squandered the effort with only the keeper to beat.
Nonetheless, it mattered little as Bafana celebrated at the final whistle as they finished in second place on the Group E standings.