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Durban – The host nation came alive at the Africa Cup of Nations on Wednesday, two hometown heroes helping Bafana Bafana slay their Southern African rivals, and take up a commanding position in Group A.
Siyabonga Sangweni and Lehlohonolo Majoro both cut their cloth in club football in the capital of KwaZulu Natal. Now on different sides of Soweto, but united for their country, the pair found the goals that a country 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 here on Sunday.
Igesund had been vocal in his disappointment with the performance against Cape Verde and his response on Wednesday was to ransack almost half his starting line-up. Five outfield players were left out in Durban, Kagiso Dikgacoi missing with a knee injury, but the rest – Siphiwe Tshabalala, Reneilwe Letsholonyane, Thabo Matlaba and Majoro – all dropped by the Bafana coach.
Tshabalala’s omission was probably the most surprising, the Bafana coach 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 axis at the base of midfield, and 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 over-hit 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 finishing, 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.
A glorious move saw Mphela, superb in the main striking role, flick a header for Phala, whose cross found the Bafana striker. He set up Rantie, who blazed over.
Igesund was a bundle of energy as always, and lost the plot with the fourth official when Mphela was flagged off-side running onto Masilela’s pass. Soon, however, his rage turned to joy. 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.
Angola almost struck back immediately, Khune doing brilliantly to claw away Manucho’s header. Mateus then blasted a Manucho effort over the bar, as Palancas Negras finally emerged from their shell.
But it was Bafana who ought to have extended their lead just before half-time. Mahlangu swung over a vicious cross that Lama could only tip into the path of Rantie, with the goal gaping. The former Pirates striker, however, headed over.
Igesund withdrew Mahlangu at half-time, and brought on Letsholonyane. Angola made their own switch, Djalma returning from injury to try and add some spark down the left.
Angola almost found a leveller just over five minutes into the second half, Mateus getting away down the right, and crossing for former Switzerland Under-21 international Guilherme, whose shot was firm but too close to the superb Khune. At the other end, Furman gathered an Mphela pass and hit a low shot that Lama just about tipped wide.
But the best was still to come from Majoro. The Kaizer Chiefs striker had not been on the pitch for long when he roared onto 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 Lama. By now the stadium was almost full, and utterly delirious. Bafana have given us cause to believe once again. – The Star