at the Union Buildings in Pretoria
South Africa (0) 2 Mahlangu 70, Sangweni 86
Morocco (1) 2 El Adoua 10, Hafdi 82
Durban - Insanity. It is hard to explain the myriad of emotions South Africa must have gone through last night, as Bafana Bafana, eventually, somehow, secured their place in the quarter-finals of the Africa Cup of Nations.
In a game that swung from the edge of despair to the unbridled ecstasy of the whole of Mzansi, it was Siyabonga Sangweni, with a quite amazing goal, who finally dragged Bafana not just into the last eight, but to the top of their group.
A capacity crowd, creating a fantastic Durban atmosphere, just seems to help create something special for this national team. And Gordon Igesund’s side will now stay in this magical kingdom for at least another week, awaiting today’s matches for their opponents in Saturday’s quarter-final at the Moses Mabhida Stadium.
Sangweni’s goal was preceded by another snorter from May Mahlangu, but Morocco also have to be credited with their part in a special game. For so long it seemed Rachid Taoussi’s side were also on their way to the last eight. But as Bafana came back at them, and Cape Verde beat Angola in Port Elizabeth, they collapsed to the turf in despair at the final whistle.
The Atlas Lions led twice in this match, and should have scored at least three more, denied only by the utter brilliance of Itumeleng Khune. The Bafana goalkeeper was twice the last line of defence to deny Youssef El Arabi, and once to deny Kamal Chafni.
If Khune was responsible for Morocco’s opener, he more than made up for it. The only shame was his apparent time-wasting at the end. But that was the only repeat of the 2012 Afcon qualifying shambles in Nelspruit. This time Bafana’s dancing at the final whistle was truly merited.
Moroccan coach Rachid Taoussi mirrored Igesund, in a sense, ahead of this game, shredding his side after a poor performance against Cape Verde, as the Bafana coach had for the victory over Angola.
Six changes were made by the Atlas Lions coach, including the dropping of Liverpool winger Ossama Assaidi, Galatassary winger Noureddine Amrabt, and Fiorentina striker Mounir El Hamdaoui.
El Arabi, the scorer of Morocco’s equaliser against Cape Verde, replaced El Hamdaoui, and it was he who had the best early chance. The Granada striker ran on to a great ball over the top from another new starter, Youssef Kaddioui, but Khune just managed to block.
Igesund had gone in with the same side that had done so well against Angola, but they were run ragged early on by the Moroccans, who played with the fire of a side that knew victory was the only real option.
Abdelaziz Barrada was getting plenty of joy down the left, and his cut-back was just cleared away from the boot of El Arabi by Dean Furman. From the resulting corner, however, Bafana and their raucous fans were momentarily silenced.
Barrada’s delivery was vicious and inswinging, Khune came and missed, and the ball struck Issam El Adoua and bounced into the net.
It was a bit unfortunate, but Morocco deserved it for sheer constant pressure.
Khune then had to be alert to turn behind a Chahir Belghazouani shot, and El Adoua headed just wide, as the Atlas Lions threatened to completely crash the Bafana party.
Bafana at least started to move the ball around a little as the half went on, a decent move ending as Bernard Parker flashed a shot across the face of goal.
Igesund was getting increasingly frustrated with Gambian referee Bakary Gassama, whose fussy attitude to the match, and general inconsistency, was helping no one.
Dean Furman lost his temper and was booked, before Tokelo Rantie got the crowd on their feet, exploding away down the left, but holding onto the ball too long, allowing the danger to be cleared.
Morocco, however, really ought to have gone into the break two-up. Kamal Chafni ran clear of the Bafana defence, caught square far too often, and Khune raced off his line to somehow block with his feet, outside the penalty area.
Khune was tested again at the start of the second half, Barrada’s low shot fizzing into the arms of Khune.
Thuso Phala came even closer for Bafana not long after, his free kick acrobatically kept out by Lamyaghiri. Igesund had thrown on Thulani Serero for Mphela by now, realising that Bafana’s best route to goal was keeping the ball on the ground. Serero did add some fluency with his movement off the ball and passing, but it was Morocco who again should have doubled their lead.
A mistake from Sangweni allowed El Arabi another run at the South African goal, but Khune somehow clawed his effort away.
Lamyaghiri then had to be wide awake again, to tip away another fizzing Phala free kick this time more of a cross than a shot.
But the Moroccan goalkeeper could only look and admire with 20 minutes to go, as Mahlangu’s glorious curler sent Durban wild. Rantie set up Mahlangu, and he bent a fantastic shot into the top corner. It looked like Bafana would go on and take all three points from there, but it was Morocco who came storming back.
Mahlangu was guilty of gifting the Atlas Lions possession with a needless backheel and from an excellent passing move, substitute Abdelilah Hafdi arrived in the box to finish past Khune.
Bafana dead and buried? Not a bit of it. Gordon Igesund’s men just kept on going, and Sangweni arrived down the left, cut inside, and curled an imperious striker’s finish into the corner of the net.
As news of Cape Verde’s victory filtered through, it clearly did not reach Moroccan goalkeeper Lamyaghiri who did his own time-wasting on the final whistle and had to be rushed to his feet by his players. This time the joke was on Morocco. Bafana Bafana have made it to the quarterfinals of the African Nations Cup. For real.