FRANCISTOWN – South Africa overcame a fired-up Botswana side 2-0 in an 2018 African Nations Championship (Chan) qualifier at the Francistown Stadium on Saturday.
The game was a lot tighter than the score suggested, the visitors being forced to survive sustained periods of pressure either side of their two goals, scored by Kaizer Chiefs' 20-year-old striker Ryan Moon, and Gift Motupa, the Orlando Pirates midfielder expected to go on loan to Baroka FC this season.
After a host of new Bafana Bafana caps had been handed out during the recent Cosafa Cup, head coach Stuart Baxter gave another three players - Moon, Teboho Mokoena (SuperSport United) and Mamelodi Sundowns midfielder Sibusiso Kumalo (who was a late replacement for the ineligible Lehlogonolo Masalesa) - their senior national team debuts.
Bafana started promisingly as Mokoena pushed an early free kick wide, before Riyaad Norodien's run into the opposition box nearly resulted in the hosts conceding an own goal.
The South Africans, though, were to find themselves under increasing pressure and it took some dogged defending to keep Botswana off the score-sheet.
The tension was however relieved on 28 minutes when Moon, with barely a handful of PSL appearances to his name, shrugged off a defender before putting the ball past goalkeeper Mwapule Masule and into the net.
The Zebras came storming back looking for an equaliser, with the ever-dangerous Thero Setsile sending a 33rd minute shot wide before going agonisingly close with a header eight minutes before the break.
There was no let up from Botswana after the restart, but there was also no end product as Kabelo Seakanyeng and Lemponye Tshireletso directed shots wide, while Richard Legailwa had an effort blocked.
Finally Bafana had a sight on goal, just after the hour mark, but Motupa's radar was off as he failed to hit the target on the turn.
But that chance seemed to spark the South Africans back to life and after a couple more opportunities, it was 2-0 on 72 minutes when Stellenbosch FC midfielder Jamie Webber's cross found Cole Alexander, who put the ball across goal for Motupa to score.
The visiting side were able to play out the remainder of the game without much issue as the Zebra's fight died out, putting them very much in the driving seat in the two-legged tie.
The return match will take place in Rustenburg next Saturday, with the aggregate winner set to take on either Swaziland or Zambia in the final qualifying round ahead of next year's Chan tournament in Kenya.
Africa News Agency