DURBAN: The host nation came alive at the Africa Cup of Nations yesterday, two hometown heroes helping Bafana Bafana slay Angola 2-0 at the Moses Mabhida Stadium to take up a commanding position in Group A.
Siyabonga Sangweni and Lehlohonolo Majoro both cut their cloth in club football in KwaZulu-Natal. Now on different sides of Soweto, but united for their country, the pair found the goals that a nation so craved, precious jewels that give Bafana back some much-needed mojo.
Credit must go to another Durbanite, Gordon Igesund, who had taken plenty of stick before this game, but had the guts to shred his team after a dismal opening match and go for broke.
The quarter-finals are suddenly not a distant mirage, but well within touching distance when Bafana take on Morocco at the same venue on Sunday.
Igesund had been vocal in his disappointment with his team’s performance against Cape Verde, and his response yesterday was to ransack almost half his starting line-up. Five outfield players were left out, Kagiso Dikgacoi missing out due to a knee injury, but the rest – Siphiwe Tshabalala, Reneilwe Letsholonyane, Thabo Matlaba and Majoro – all dropped by the coach.
Tshabalala’s omission was probably the most surprising, Igesund finally losing patience after a series of lacklustre displays from his vice-captain.
Into the breach stepped Tsepo Masilela at left back, a new central midfield pairing of Dean Furman and May Mahlangu, and a new strike partnership in Katlego Mphela and Tokelo Rantie.
It was immediately apparent that Bafana were holding their shape far better than against Cape Verde, Furman the axel at the base of midfield, with Mahlangu buzzing in the space between midfield and attack.
On the flanks, Masilela provided drive from the left-back position, and Thuso Phala excelled once again on the right of midfield.
Only Bafana’s traditional stage fright in front of goal held them back in the early stages.
Mphela got in a good position, but drove the ball all the way across the penalty area. From Phala’s excellent free kick, Bongani Khumalo just failed to get a good connection.
Another bright free kick saw Furman just overhit a pass to Bernard Parker. Mphela then set up Rantie, whose shot deflected wide. Next it was Rantie who supplied a glorious over-the-top ball for Mahlangu, whose effort also skidded off target.
However wayward their finshing, Bafana were playing with energy, with drive that lifted the crowd, the stadium not yet filled to capacity, but filled with more and more belief by the minute.
Phala slipped a quick free kick to Parker, whose cross was headed straight up in the air by Dany Massunguna, under pressure from Mphela. The ball came down to Sangweni, who lashed a shot past Lama unerringly into the far corner of the net.
Igesund withdrew Mahlangu at halftime and brought on Letsholonyane. Angola made their own switch, Djalma returning from injury to try and add some spark down the left.
But the best was still to come from Majoro. The Kaizer Chiefs striker had not been on the pitch for long when he roared on to Letsholonyane’s pass and away from the Angolan defence all the way to the byline before cutting inside and drilling his shot cheekily through the legs of the goalkeeper.
By now the stadium was almost full – and utterly delirious. Bafana have given us cause to believe once again.