On Friday night, all eyes fell on Polokwane as the South Africa national team looked to keep their 2018 World Cup aspirations alive. It was the first of two must-win encounters for Bafana Bafana and coach Stuart Baxter opted for the strongest possible squad at his disposal. Baxter made two changes to the side which earned an impressive 3-1 victory over Burkina Faso, the duo of Lebogang Manyama and Dean Furman came in for Andile Jali and the suspended Bongani Zungu, while Itumeleng Khune was declared fit despite having to don a protective face mask.
Meanwhile, a star-studded Senegal were also looking to book their place in next year’s showpiece event, knowing that victory would seal their place in Russia. As expected the encounter got off to a rather tentative start with both sides looking to find their footing in the clash.
Baxter’s men clearly had a game plan as they utilised a number of long ball upfront as they looked to unleash the pace and creativity of Percy Tau. But despite, Senegal’s pragmatic start, it was them who drew first blood. With 12 minutes played, Sakho broke the deadlock following some impressive interplay and a sublime pass by Sadio Mane, who played Sakho through on goal. The attacker showed great composure as he slotted his effort past Khune, silencing the impressive crowd in attendance.
The goal seemed to awaken the South African attack and the Senegal goalkeeper was finally tested with 25 minutes played. Themba Zwane and Tau combined well but the former was denied by a comfortable save before Tau failed to get an adequate connection on the rebound.
Bafana were enjoying a positive period of possession and their build-up was at times absolutely scintillating, but the age-old problem of failing to take their chances once again plagued the team. Just before the half hour mark, Manyama was unlucky not to have found the equaliser as his shot riffled off the woodwork after latching onto a pinpoint pass from the wing.
With Bafana looking to find the equaliser before the break, the Senegal attack again proved a class above the rest. While Sadio Mane’s initial effort was superbly kept out by Khune, the Kaizer Chiefs goalie could do nothing but watch on as Mkhize unluckily bundled the ball home into his own net.
The goal clearly knocked the stuffing out of the home side, but that did not stop them from trying to find an elusive goal. Manyama was yet again denied, this time thanks to a fantastic save by the Senegal keeper as he tipped the Konyaspor attacker’s effort over the bar. That was the final goalmouth action of the half as Bafana went into demoralised and devoid of ideas.
The second half saw Bafana go for broke as they looked to salvage something out of the game. Stuart Baxter had employed a higher defensive line which allowed the full-backs to move further up the field. With the hour mark fast approaching, Sibusiso Vilakazi manoeuvred himself well inside the box before combining with Tau, but he could do no better than shoot straight at the Senegalese goalkeeper.
Chances were not coming as frequently as they did earlier on in the encounter, leading to Baxter eventually changing things around. Jali and the evergreen Siphiwe Tshabalala were thrown on in an effort to liven matters.
However, the move did little to affect the score line as the Lions of Teranga’s defence were resolute and repelled the South African attack on several occasions. With time running out, the match lacked the intensity required for Bafana to plot a comeback as Senegal looked content to hold onto their two-goal lead, and they duly obliged ending the hopes of an entire nation.