Durban - When Bafana Bafana’s goal-scoring ailments were dissected ahead of the Africa Cup of Nations, it is safe to say not many came up with a cure in the name of Siyabonga Sangweni.
The Orlando Pirates centre back did come up with a few key strikes in the Buccaneers’ treble victory last season, but he has not exactly been prolific, and going into the Afcon, had not netted a single goal this campaign for club or country.
It is not, in any case, the job of a central defender to be haring down the left wing, with five minutes to go, as Sangweni was against Morocco in the Moses Mabhida Stadium on Sunday night.
And it is certainly not his typical modus operandi to cut inside, past two defenders, and curl an unbeatable shot with his right foot into the bottom corner of the net.
This, amazingly, was Sangweni’s second clinical finish of the 2013 Afcon, the first smashed home with his other foot against Angola.
One-footed finishers have been hard to come by for Bafana in recent years, let alone men who can sting the net with either peg.
Both required a cool head in high-pressure circumstances, the first against Palancas Negras breaking the Bafana goal drought, and setting them on their way in the tournament, and the second ultimately proving the decisive balance between Bafana flying into the quarter-finals on top of Group A and falling out of the tournament in disgrace.
Sangweni is now Bafana’s leading goal-scorer at the tournament, and he described his goal against Morocco in typically straightforward terms. “I saw the ’keeper was moving and I just picked my spot,” he said.
The defender did also make specific mention of his coach at Orlando Pirates, Roger de Sa.
“I want to thank Roger for the work he has been doing for me at training,” he said. “He is the one who has made me score goals.”
The Pirates coach admitted that Sangweni always enjoys having a hit on the training field at the Buccaneers.
“He definitely participates and enjoys it,” said De Sa. “He competes with Benni, Mbesuma and Takesure, the whole team is very competitive. (But) he mustn’t think he is going to come back as a striker!”
All of which does beg the question, what on earth was the central defender doing that far up the pitch on Sunday evening?
“I told the guys that I was playing with at the back, that now I am going forward, I want to try my luck,” said Sangweni.
And Bafana can be ever grateful that he did.
“I didn’t see him go up, if I had, I would have called him back to come and defend. It was a blessing in disguise,” said Bafana goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune. “His job is to defend, but thanks to the decision he made, he saved the country.”
Bafana’s other goal against Morocco was also a wonder-strike, from a slightly more likely source, May Mahlangu scoring his first Bafana goal. “It was a great move, a through-pass from (Tokelo) Rantie… and I was relaxed and composed to put it in the right spot,” said Mahlangu.
Bafana were a little all over the place on Sunday, their defending ramshackle at times, but when it mattered, Gordon Igesund’s men found the heart to get through.
“I think it comes down to the leadership of the team,” said Mahlangu. “The coach told each and every one of us to fight for the team, and we proved today that hard work pays off.”
Bafana were given the day off by Igesund on Monday as reward for their efforts, with the coach left to watch the evening’s games to see who he will meet in the last-eight on Saturday. Igesund will have to do without Anele Ngcongca, the right back suspended after picking up his second booking against Morocco. Siboniso Gaxa is his likely replacement.
Striker Lehlohonolo Majoro, meanwhile, should be fully fit by then, after recovering from a gash in his calf.