Bafana Bafana got their 2021 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) qualifying campaign back on track following a 1-0 win over Sudan at the Orlando Stadium in Soweto on Sunday.
The visitors came into this match with an emphatic 4-0 win over São Tomé and Príncipe while South Africa were beaten 2-0 by Ghana in Accra on Thursday.
Bafana head coach Molefi Ntseki made six changes to the team that started against Ghana as Thapelo Morena, Lebogang Phiri, Thulani Serero, Lebo Mothiba, Erick Mathoho and Kamohelo Mokotjo replaced Thamsanqa Mkhize, Buhle Mkhwanazi, Bradley Grobler, Bongani Zungu, Thembinkosi Lorch and Thato Mokeke in the starting XI.
The crucial must-win fixture started with much impetus from the home side as South Africa took less than two minutes to have the first real chance at goal.
Phiri collected a through ball from midfield and with a sneaky backheel touch in the penalty area that Percy Tau latched onto, he threaded a through ball towards Mothiba. However, the striker’s mistimed shot did find Morena, but his shot went inches wide.
A rare start for Phiri certainly inspired the recently turned 25-year-old as he was once again in the thick of things.
The midfielder struck a low cross into the penalty area and Serero was the quickest to it, only for the goalkeeper Ali Abdallah Abu Eshrein to glove the ball to safety.
That all happened within five minutes as the visitors held their nerve but Tau and Serero were constantly attempting to unlock the Sudanese defence.
Serero got a ball from the hard-working Tau and from 20-yards attempted to trouble Abu Eshrein but his powerful striker went over the cross bar.
Mothiba then had a chance to redeem himself following his early mishap but once again could not find his footing.
His soft touch at goal was easily saved by the ‘keeper.
Sudan had their first real chance midway through the first half, but Rowen Williams easily collected the effort and immediately lobbed the ball towards Tau for a counterattack. The Belgium-based striker took on the Sudan defence before laying it off for Serero, but his shot was saved by Abu Eshrein.
South Africa continued to see most of the ball with Sudan chasing aimlessly, however, the home side struggled to find the back of the net until the 45th minute.
After countless of attacks, Bafana finally broke the deadlock in emphatic fashion.
Serero’s lowly cross was poorly cleared by the Sudan back-four and Phiri pounced on the opportunity that left Abu Eshrein with no chance to save.
Sudan certainly started the second half with better energy as they pressured South Africa in hopes of landing an equaliser.
Maaz Abdelrhman was introduced from the substitutes bench and came close for the visitors with a strike that went over the crossbar.
The Sudanese were determined to get on the scoresheet and came close following a delightful long ball that lead to an unexpected header at goal, which Williams saved, but was also flagged for offside.
Ntseki then brought on Kermit Erasmus and Lebogang Manyama for Mothiba and goal scorer Phiri.
Erasmus was quick to make his presence count as he tested the ‘keeper from close range but Abu Eshrein was up for the task as punched the Cape Town City striker’s effort to safety.
Grobler, who has been in hot form for SuperSport United, was then introduced to the Orlando Stadium crowd and the striker finished off a move that could have doubled South Africa’s lead but was ruled offside.
South Africa held onto their lead and collected three points that will see them level on points with Sudan and Ghana in Group C.
The Black Stars are expected to top group after match-day two as they take on the lowly-ranked São Tomé on Monday.
The AFCON 2021 qualifiers will then take a nine-month break.
When the competition resumes in 2020, South Africa will play back-to-back (home and away) matches against São Tomé in September.
The next month, South Africa will welcome Ghana for an epic home clash before Molefi Ntseki’s charges travel to Sudan for their final Group C match in November.
Two teams from the group will qualify for AFCON 2021 to be held in Cameroon.
BAFANA BAFANA 2021 AFCON QUALIFIERS:
November 15, 2019: Bafana Bafana 0-2 Ghana (A)
November 19, 2019: Bafana Bafana 1-0 Sudan (H)
September 4, 2020: v São Tomé (H)
September 8, 2020: v São Tomé (A)
October 10, 2020: v Ghana (H)
November 13, 2020: v Sudan (A)