Drought over: South Africa score & win

Posted by Firdose Moonda

It had been nine years and four tournaments since South Africa won in the African Nations Cup. It had been five years since they last scored. It had been a month and a day since the team last found the back of the net, in a 3-1 victory in a friendly against Malawi Dec. 22.

Ironically, that Bafana Bafana win was at the same venue where their 2-0 victory over Angola Wednesday was played - Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban. It is also the home city of Siyabonga Sangweni, the defender who showed the forwards how it should be done in the 30th minute. The South African Football Federation must have paid the traditional healer that they owed 90,000 rand ($10,600) because the stars finally aligned for the home team. Twice.

In whimsical terms, maybe that’s what happened But in realistic ones, drastic changes were made to ensure South Africa registered a victory. Almost half the team who started against Cape Verde - who tied Morocco 1-1 in Wednesday's second match - were booted to the bench as Gordon Igesund showed that he needed something new to ignite his charges.

In the lead-up to the match, 1996 ANC winning captain Neil Tovey called for Siphiwe Tshabalala to be dropped to the bench. He was not the only one. Two of his Kaizer Chiefs teammates, Reneilwe Letsholonyane and Lehlohonolo Majoro, went with him. Igesund also left out Thabo Matlaba and could not consider Kagisho Dikgacoi because of a knee injury.

The five new players included Tsepo Masilela, but it was the midfield and strike department that changed the flavour markedly. May Mahlangu and Dean Furman were brought in along with Tokelo Rantie and Katlego Mphela and the difference they made was obvious.

Furman bossed the midfield with familiarity that belies his newness to the South African setup. The final whistle had not even blown when comparisons to former national player Eric Tinkler were made. His commitment, shrewdness and ability to create space and opportunity made him the most watchable player. Furman plays at Oldham Athletic and some local fans are already wondering when he will be picked up by a first-division or even Premier League club.

As polished as Furman was is how enthusiastically Rantie played. Picked by Bernard Parker as the player who can develop into a future star, Rantie has been called skilled and strong by his national team-mate. What he lacks is the finishing touch, as he sent a number of wild chances over the crossbar or wide of goal. Rantie has potential, and even though that is not enough at this level, if he harnesses it soon, South Africa’s strike force could be a little more potent.

Angola offered very little in the first half which was bookended with half-chances for them. In the opening five minutes, Mateus sent a chance wide and he was also the guilty party in the closing sequence. Manucho headed the ball his way but Mateus could only smash it over the bar.

They brought a more stiff challenge in the second period and it was a good test of the hosts’ temperament. Directly after Angola fluffed an opportunity to go level, Furman received the ball, charged up and curled in a shot towards the bottom corner. It did not result in anything more than a corner but it would have done something to soothe the nerves.

With shorter passes and more accurate touches, Angola appeared to be getting better but South Africa had a cushion when they doubled the lead. Majoro has been in good form for his club and shot from an acute angle to slip the ball between Joao Lama’s legs in the 62nd minute.

Although Angola’s supply to their strikers grew better, South Africa’s instincts were also sharpened. Itumeleng Khune saved well when he needed to but most importantly for Igesund, Bafana’s passing was better directed and their intent was more obvious. They did not send long balls into the nothingness because they had an engine room in the midfield which was missing in their first match. Furman was it most of the match.

Don’t tell Bafana Bafana they likely need to draw against Morocco to get through the quarterfinals. Euphoria has often led to complacency for them in the past. But let them enjoy Wednesday. It is, without doubt, the most joy they have had in a long time. As long as nine years, perhaps.

South Africa's chances of qualifying for the knockouts grew when the other match in Group A was drawn. Cape Verde took the lead over Morocco - their first goal at a major tournament - but a 76th-minute strike from Youssef El Arabu ensured points were shared.

Both teams are without a win which leaves them with just two points, and they only can gain a maximum of another two.

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