Victor Letsoalo struck a hat-trick which secured the passage for Bafana Bafana to reach the semi-finals of the Cosafa Cup following a 4-0 Group A win over Lesotho at a rain-drenched Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium on Tuesday.
Making his Bafana debut after only being called up to the squad as a stand-by player, Letsoalo responded by first thrusting South Africa into the lead five minutes into the match, before again finding the back of the net a minute before half-time.
The Bloemfontein Celtic man then wrapped up his treble on 57 minutes to help the hosts record a convincing victory after Sphelele Mkhulise had grabbed Bafana’s second goal in the 20th minute.
It was also the first international goal for Mamelodi Sundowns’ Mkhulise to complete a day of debutant scorers for South Africa who have won all their three Cosafa Cup games so far and are yet to concede.
The result from this one-sided affair eliminated Lesotho who went into this match reeling from a 4-0 defeat suffered against Botswana on Saturday.
South Africa stand-in coach Morena Ramorebuli started Kaizer Chiefs new signing Njabulo Ngcobo, Letsoalo, Sifiso Ngobeni and Yusuf Maart for the first time in this tournament
It appeared to have worked for the hosts who were unimpressive in their 1-0 wins over Botswana and Eswatini.
It did not take long for Letsoalo to open the scoring when he connected with his head (from a cross) from his Celtic teammate Ngobeni just after five minutes.
The Celtic man then narrowly missed the target with another headed effort a few minutes later as he promised to headline the contest.
South Africa then saw new Orlando Pirates signing Monnapule Saleng hit the woodwork from a freekick.
Mkhulise then doubled Bafana’s lead by pouncing on a rebound after Lesotho goalkeeper Jersey Matsie had saved Nyiko Mobbie’s powerful shot.
As the match headed for the break, Lesotho defensive midfielder Lisema Lebokollane slipped while trying to clear danger and Letsoalo took advantage before making a lob past Matsie to register a brace.
That saw Bafana go into half-time leading 3-0 and six minutes after the restart, substitute Kagiso Malinga’s shot just went wide.
Letsoalo then completed his hat-trick when he coolly slotted in a cross from Thabani Dube.
In a rare attack by the Crocodiles of Lesotho, Lehlohonolo Fothoane headed just wide but the raid meant little for his side who appeared having their energy sapped by being 4-0 down.
South Africa will now face defending champions Zambia on Wednesday in their final group match.
Interestingly, Bafana face Zambia who lost to Lesotho last week.
Elsewhere, Zimbabwe were eliminated from the Cosafa Cup after losing 2-1 to guest participants Senegal who came from behind to record a second straight victory in Group B.
Zimbabwe opened the scoreline through a penalty converted by Qadr Amini three minutes into the match, but Senegal hit back via Abdoul Ndoye in the 44th minute.
The Teranga Lions then inflicted pain on the Warriors when substitute Mohamed Ba scored with two minutes remaining.
Senegal now need to beat Malawi on Wednesday to progress to the semi-finals while also hoping Mozambique beat Malawi on the same day.
Cosafa Cup record holders Zimbabwe will now head home after suffering two defeats and two draws in this tournament.
In another Group B match on Tuesday, Malawi drew 1-1 against Mozambique who surrendered Elmo Kambindu’s opener to allow the Flames to hit back through Micium Mhone.
Meanwhile, Zambia recorded their first win in this tournament when they edged Botswana 2-1 at Isaac Wolfson Stadium on the same day.
A brace by Justin Shonga eased pressure on Chipolopopo who had lost to Lesotho and Eswatini in their opening games.
Thatayaone Kgamanyane scored for Botswana who have to beat Eswatini in their last group game on Wednesday to progress to the semi-finals.
On the same day, it is also a must-win for Chipolopolo who face Bafana Bafana.