South Africa 1-0 Botswana: Bafana Bafana begin Cosafa Cup campaign by edging Zebras
Rushine De Reuck, Thatayaone Kgamanyane, Ethan Brooks, South Africa vs Botswana, Cosafa Cup, July 2021
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Despite the victory, the hosts did not claim top spot in their pool after Eswatini beat Lesotho 3-1

Swallows FC midfielder Kagiso Malinga rose from the bench to grab the all-important goal which separated South Africa and Botswana in a Cosafa Cup, Group A match at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium on Tuesday.

Malinga decided the contest on 67 minutes to save an unimpressive Bafana Bafana side facing opponents the majority of whose players are from a league which has not been active for almost two years.

The victory was not enough to help South Africa claim top spot in Group A after Eswatini beat Lesotho earlier on at the same venue.

South Africa coach Morena Ramoreboli started with a team that hardly representative of the full Bafana squad, with goalkeeper Veli Mothwa, the Mamelodi Sundowns trio of defender Rushine De Reuck, Nyiko Mobbie and Sphelele Mkhulise as well as AmaZulu midfielder Siyethemba Sithebe the familiar faces.

Three National First Division players were started by Ramoreboli who was in charge of Bafana in the absence of Helman Mkhalele, who was advised to isolate after a Monday's round of Covid-19 testing.

SuperSport’s Thatayaone Ditlhokwe, ex-Chippa United midfielder Thatayaone Kgamanyane and former TS Galaxy defender Mosha Gaolaolwe headlined the Zebras side. 

It was Botswana’s first game since the departure of former coach Adel Amrouche, who parted ways with the team in June, and Letang Kgengwenyane was in charge on Tuesday. 

The match started on a promising note with Free State Stars’ Monnapule Saleng forcing a save from Botswana goalkeeper Ezekiel Morake two minutes into the contest. 

But from then, neither side seriously tested the other as play weighed more on the hosts, who had the likes of Mkhulise and Sithebe firing stray shots as they struggled for precision. 

It took until the half-hour mark for Botswana to trouble Bafana captain Mothwa when Francis Setsile had a shot bound for the top left corner tipped just over the bar by the AmaZulu goalkeeper. 

From the resultant corner-kick, Segolame Boy had an effort blocked on the goal-line while Gape Mohutsiwa missed the target by a whisker from the rebound. 

The start of the second half saw no improvement in terms of chances but Boy narrowly missed the target from a freekick from the edge of the box in the 52nd minute. 

Boy continued to be a big threat to Bafana when he forced a save from Mothwa eight minutes later. 

The Zebras were an improved side and Kgamanyane took advantage of a miscued clearance by Basil Mphahlele but his volley hit the crossbar with Mothwa looking helpless. 

Soon after as Botswana looked to have seized control of play, Malinga got to the end of a counter-attack to shoot the first time, at an acute angle, past Morake 11 minutes after coming on from the bench.  

As Botswana tried to hit back, Mbatshi Elias saw his shot just over the bar with 10 minutes to go.

South Africa managed to hold on as they showed no prospects of increasing their lead while risking to allow Botswana to equalise. 

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Earlier on, Eswatini beat Lesotho 3-1 in the opening match of Group A. 

TS Galaxy midfielder Felix Badenhorst opened the scoreline for Eswatini in the 42nd minute but Black Leopards attacker Tumelo Khutlang beat the half-time whistle to restore parity. 

Khethokuhle Mkhontfo then reclaimed the lead for Eswatini 12 minutes into the second half, before Fanelo Mamba sealed victory for Sihlangu on 78 minutes.