Bafana Bafana began their 2019 Afcon qualifying campaign with an impressive 2-0 win against Nigeria at the Godswill Akpabio International Stadium on Saturday evening, writes MARSHALL GOUTS.
Stuart Baxter made a mammoth seven changes from Shakes Mashaba’s last starting XI in charge, with only Itumeleng Khune, Thulani Hlatshwayo, Eric Mathoho and Keagan Dolly retaining their spots from the 2-1 victory against Senegal.
The Super Eagles got off to the brighter start of the two teams, with Moses Simon looking particularly threatening on the right-hand side.
Bafana Bafana shaded possession stakes and seemed content with playing on the counter-attack as the home side grew in confidence over time.
Wilfred Ndidi came agonisingly close to opening the scoring in the 11th minute when a poor clearance by Ramahlwe Mphahlele saw the ball land at his feet, but the Leicester City man’s powerful effort went inches over the crossbar.
Khune came to South Africa’s rescue in the 20th minute when he reacted quickest to a through ball which had evaded the Bafana defence.
Nigeria should have taken the lead a minute later when Kelechi Iheanacho did well to square the ball for the onrushing Oghenekaro Etebo, but the midfielder placed his tame effort wide of the target, with Khune seemingly beaten.
The visitors posed little threat to Nigeria’s dominance, with lone-man Tokelo Rantie often isolated due to the lack of support upfront.
Bafana captain Thulani Hlatshwayo made a crucial challenge in the 35th minute to deny Iheanacho from getting on to the end of a defence-splitting pass from Ndidi.
South Africa were gifted the best chance of the game moments before half-time when a counter-attacking move, involving Dolly, Tebogo Langerman and Themba Zwane, found the latter unmarked in the area, but the Mamelodi Sundowns winger steered his effort on to the post after some woeful goalkeeping from Daniel Akpeyi.
The two sides went into the half-time break deadlocked at 0-0.
South Africa looked more energised and emerged with more of an attacking intent in the second half, and duly took the lead in the 55th minute when a great cross into the area by Mphahlele was met by Rantie at the near post after the home side’s defence was caught napping.
The home side made the first substitution of the game as Gernot Rohr introduced Ahmed Musa for Alex Iwobi in the 58th minute.
Bafana upped the tempo of their game, as well as their defensive line, as they went in search of the second goal, which saw Nigeria shade possession stakes and looking to play on the break.
Simon continued to pose a threat on the wing with his quick feet and direct approach, but he was let down by a lack of presence upfront by his teammates.
Baxter made his first change in the 65th minute when he brought on Lebogang Manyama for Sibusiso Vilakazi. A great passing move saw South Africa get the better of the Nigerian defence, but Zwane hit the post for the second time in the encounter, with the goal begging at his mercy.
The visitors should have sealed the game in the 74th minute, when a two-versus-one situation resulted in Dolly going on his own, with his subsequent appeals for a penalty being rejected.
Heroics by Khune and Dean Furman denied Nigeria from getting the equaliser in the 78th minute, as the Super Eagles continued their wave of attacks towards the South African goalframe.
South Africa doubled their advantage in bizarre circumstances when substitute Percy Tau latched on to a through ball by Dolly to slot home with virtually his first touch of the game.
Tiyani Mabunda replaced Keagan Dolly late on to disrupt the flow of the home side’s attacks.
Nigeria threw numbers forward in search of the equaliser, but were to be denied by a resilient Bafana side, who held on to their two-goal lead to kick-start their 2019 Africa Cup Of Nations qualification campaign with a 2-0 win against their bitter rivals.
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