Rebuked and pilloried in their land of birth for the past nine months, Bafana Bafana finally produced a clinical performance to secure this victory over Gabon which restored some pride to their battered image.
Naysayers will dismiss this win as immaterial given that Gabon arrived here with a largely under-strength squad, but for a South African side that hadn’t won for eight games dating back to last August, any kind of victory will have been acceptable.
Most impressive was the manner in which it was achieved, with Siphiwe Tshabalala curling in a free-kick just before half-time and Tokelo Rantie and Mzikayise Mashaba scoring their first ever international goals in the second period.
That Gabon fielded largely their Under-23s in this friendly international should not detract from Bafana’s impressive play, and even Steve Komphela could argue this wasn’t really his first team.
He had sent five players – including captain Steven Pienaar and leading striker Katlego Mphela – back home at the beginning of the week, and the Bafana interim coach followed that up with some bold selections last night.
In total he made seven changes from the line-up that took the field against Botswana in the World Cup qualifier last week, ensuring Bafana, for the first time in months, went into the game with a single defensive midfielder in Reneilwe Letsholonyane.
Teko Modise, Siphiwe Tshabalala, May Mahlangu and Lebohang Mokoena all served as attacking options in support of the lively Rantie, while at the back, Komphela paired Mulomuwandau Mathoho alongside Morgan Gould. Siboniso Gaxa started at rightback in place of Anele Ngcongca to win his 50th cap.
The changes had immediate impact, with Bafana looking more fluid than in recent times, and this scoreline really doesn’t do justice to their dominance.
Modise, in particular, could easily have had a brace, but was denied by the excellent Didier Ovono, one of Gabon’s few experienced players on the park, then the Sundowns man missed from close range following nice interplay by Bafana which cut through the Panthers’ defence as if it was nonexistent.
The crowd was becoming agitated and some even started calling for the substitution of Modise as a consequence of his earlier misses. But Tshabalala had them erupting joyously with three minutes to half-time, planting the ball expertly beyond the reach of captain Ovono from a free-kick.
Matters turned for the better for the hosts in chilling conditions here, with Thulani Serero taking matters in his own hand after replacing Mokoena at the break. The Ajax Amsterdam man was simply sensational, setting up Rantie with a brilliant through-ball for the Orlando Pirates man to score his first goal on 68 minutes. Mashaba then found space in the Gabonese box after being teed up by Serero before lifting the ball over Ovono.
The final whistle brought about celebrations which Bafana thoroughly deserved for a display that seemed absolutely foreign to them, such had been their decline over the last year. – Saturday Star