South Africa and Zambia opened their Group B campaign at the Africa U23 Cup of Nations with a draw at Al-Salam Stadium on Saturday.
Chances were missed by both sides. With Ivory Coast edging Nigeria 1-0 in another Group B encounter earlier on, South Africa and Zambia will have to be at their best in their next matches to avoid falling behind on the standings.
KV Oostende midfielder Emmanuel Banda’s left-footed shot from outside the area was too weak to trouble South Africa goalkeeper Darren Johnson eight minutes into the match.
Four minutes later, Lameck Banda’s attempt from distance went high as the Zambians showed more intent at goal.
But David Notoane's men got themselves into the contest with Happy Mashiane setting up Kobamelo Kodisang, who, however, shot wide from outside the box.
Zambia goalkeeper Mangani Banda was called into action for the first time in this match when he denied Kamohelo Mahlatsi who had dribbled his way into the 18-yard box in the 20th minute.
The pendulum immediately swung to the other end where Johnson was on hand to save Ngosa Sunzu’s shot from outside the box while Mahlatsi was back to invite a save from Banda soon afterwards.
The South Africans were again close to snatching the lead with Thendo Mukumela’s headed effort from close range narrowly missing the target on 26 minutes.
It continued as a balanced affair as Johnson denied Kings Kangwa, and later on Edward Chilufya, before the half-time break.
Five minutes after the interval, Kodisang continued being South Africa’s biggest threat and this time around, he was forced to shoot wide while under pressure from three Zambian defenders.
At this stage, Notoane's men appeared to have the upper hand with Itumeleng Shopane having a shot blocked and a headed effort going just wide. Orlando Pirates defender Thabiso Monyane had Banda saving his effort which was directed at the bottom right corner 20 minutes from time.
Banda became the busier of the two goalkeepers, this time, having to deal with Grant Mangerman’s long-range strike.
The increased attack by South Africa forced Zambia to throw more numbers in defence to soak up the pressure.
But Chilufya nearly punished South Africa from a counter-attack after narrowly missing with his head from Kangwa’s cross.
It appeared Notoane’s charges could steal a late goal but Mahlatsi, Athenkosi Dlala and Shopane lacked the final touch while the Zambian defence stood firm until the final whistle.
South Africa will now face Ivory Coast in their next match on Tuesday while Zambia will lock horns with Nigeria on the same day.