BAFANA Bafana reached their first Africa Cup of Nations quarterfinal in 11 years in dramatic fashion with last night’s fighting 2-2 draw against Morocco at the Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban.
A spectacular match that swung in fortunes four times will go down as the best of the tournament so far.
Importantly, SA qualified as Group A leaders which means they face the Democratic Republic of Congo or Mali, rather than Ghana, in the quarters.
In truth, last night Bafana might have conceded more than than Issam El Adoua and Abdelilah Hafid’s's 10th and 82nd-minute strikes.
But what was important was that, in coming back from a goal down twice, South Africa showed the fight, passion and pride of a host nation.
May Mahlangu and Siyabonga Sangweni’s magical 71st-minute and 87th-minute equalisers will be remembered for years to come, and are worthy to be mentioned among some of those scored by the Afcon-winning class of 1996.
Gordon Igesund bravely kept the same attacking starting line- up from the side that beat Angola 2-0 in Durban on Wednesday, including striker Tokelo Rantie, who recovered from his ankle injury.
Morocco coach Rachid Taoussi made five changes from the team that drew 1-1 against Cape Verde and a nervous Bafana had to contend with a Morocco who came out flying.
Morocco, sleeping giants of the tournament until last night, moved the ball with breathtaking speed, with Getafe playmaker Abdelaziz Barada calling the shots and striker Youssef El Arabi making threatening runs.
The Bafana goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune was particularly shaky at the start and saved his team twice in the first half.
But in the 10th the hesitant keeper was out-jumped by El Adoua to Barrada’s corner from the left, and the Morocco midfielder’s header bounced into goal to stun the packed stadium.
Khune made his second rescue when Chafni Kamal was played onside on a counter-attack by Siyabonga Sangweni and the keeper, 20m outside his area, somehow pulled off the challenge.
The South Africans were out- paced and out-muscled by the fiery Moroccans in the first half.
Igesund introduced Thulani Serero for Katlego Mphela just after the break.
In the 59th Khune made a third superb save in a one-on-one from El Arabi, after the striker dispossessed Bongani Khumalo.
Bafana were showing fight at the other end with a host of half- chances, including another Phala free-kick tipped for a corner by Lamyaghri.
Then in the 71st the stadium, and the country, erupted with a masterful goal from May Mahlangu.
Skilful all evening, the playmaker collected the ball just outside the area from Tokelo Rantie, turned and curled the strike of the tournament into the top-right corner.
Bafana’s defensive fragility let them down again in the 82nd when substitute Hafdi was allowed acres of space to bury Youssef Kadioui’s chip as Morocco regained the lead.
But big central defender Sangweni, out of nowhere, popped up on the left of the Morocco area and produced a delicate shot, placed beautifully to the right of Lamyaghri, that the world’s leading midfielders would have been proud of.
- At Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, a 90th minute winner from Ramos Heldon summed up a fantastic debut for minnows Cape Verde to join South Africa in the quarterfinals by defeating Angola 2-1.
Angola found the back of the net in the 33rd minute when Mateus broke the deadlock, but his strike was credited as an own goal from Cape Verde skipper Nando.
But that did not deter the Islanders, who roared back in the second half to score twice.
First a headed goal from defender Fernando Varela and another in injury time from Heldon.
Bafana stay in Durban for their quarterfinal match, while Cape Verde will remain in Port Elizabeth. — Additional reporting by Mazola Molefe