Two second half goals courtesy of Tokelo Rantie and Percy Tau, saw the South Africans claim a famous 2-0 away victory over Nigeria.
Bafana Bafana had hoped to give their new coach something to smile about as they took on Nigeria in a 2019 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier on Saturday evening.
The clash signalled Stuart Baxter’s first back in charge of the South African national team following the sacking of Shakes Mashaba in December, and the 63-year-old opted for the tried and tested ahead of the clash.
The Briton relied on Rantie to lead the line alongside Sibusiso Vilakazi, with Eric Mathoho chosen to partner Thulani Hlatshwayo at the back.
Meanwhile, Bafana were forced to fend off a Nigerian side who were on the rise under their German tactician, Gernot Rohr.
The Super Eagles looked a side full of potential, and Rohr fielded his strongest XI with an attack which included Arsenal’s Alex Iwobi and Manchester City’s Kelechi Iheanacho.
In the build-up to the clash, much was said about Bafana’s lack of preparation and it was apparent as Nigeria began the game brightly, giving their defence a lot to think about.
However, Baxter’s men looked content to sit back and soak up the pressure.
Nonetheless, Nigeria had their first shot on goal in the 11th minute. Nigeria’s highly-rated midfielder Wilfred Ndidi showed great enthusiasm to latch onto a loose ball on the edge of the South African box, but his volley went wide of Itumeleng Khune’s goal.
The South Africans were struggling to contain the pacey Nigerian attack, and 22 minutes into the match, the home side had a glorious opportunity to open the scoring.
Oghenekaro Etebo’s made a late surge into the box, which went by undetected by the South African defence, but he failed to test Khune with a shot from close range.
The half time break was quickly approaching and the game was becoming a scrappy affair with both teams guilty of turning over possession far too easily.
Khune would once again have to be alert as he smartly tipped over a Moses Simon attempted cross.
With 41 minutes on the clock, Bafana were almost gifted a goal after South Africa-based Nigerian keeper, Daniel Akpeyi, dropped a Tebogo Langerman cross into the path of Themba Zwane, but the 27-year-old could only watch on as his shot cannoned off the woodwork.
The resumption of the second half in Uyo saw the crowd stunned into absolute silence as Rantie broke the deadlock in the 54th minute. The attacker latched onto a sublime cross from Ramahlwe Mphahlele and squeezed his header past Akpeyi.
The goal seemed to spur South Africa on, and in response Nigeria threw on Ahmed Musa as they looked to inject some much-needed pace into the attack.
Although, South Africa were not looking the most enterprising of the two sides going forward, they were compact and defensively sound which only contributed to the frustration of the healthy crowd in attendance.
With 20 minutes remaining, South Africa had a brilliant opportunity to kill off the game through Zwane, but once again, the upright came to Nigeria’s rescue.
The Nigerians were growing increasingly frustrated which led to them taking several long-range shots, but did little to trouble Khune. Time was running out for the hosts, and Nigeria caused the South African defence a few nervy moments but they stood firm and repelled the danger.
With 10 minutes to go, Baxter threw on Tau and the young attacker repaid the coach’s faith in him as he profited from a beautiful through pass by Keagan Dolly to finish it off with aplomb.
Lebogang Manyama had a chance to compound further misery on their opponents, but the Cape Town City forward squandered his effort.