Johannesburg – It was not pretty, but Bafana Bafana beat Zimbabwe 1-0 on Thursday to put one foot in the final round of World Cup qualifiers.
Early in the day, Ghana missed a chance to put pressure on Bafana after being held 1-1 draw by Ethiopia at a neutral Orlando Stadium. That meant advantage to Bafana who knew that a win tonight would put them in a good position.
Although it was slender, Bafana got the much needed win and full points to go three clear at the top of the standings. They'll need at least a draw or win in order to advance in the next round of the qualifiers.
Credit must go to Bafana Bafana coach Hugo Broos, who ensured that his charges – especially defensively – did not panic under pressure. Their goalkeeper and skipper Ronwen Williams had little to do, while counterpart Petros Mhari was kept busy throughout the night.
Keagan Dolly was Bafana’s live wire, proving why he deserved to return to the team after a long absence. But it was perhaps his understanding with Percy Tau that will be key for the national team heading to the last game at the Cape Coast.
Aware of the fact that they’ll need goals in order to get the much-needed win on Thursday night, Broos adopted an offensive approach – with Dolly and Tau set to supply Evidence Makgoba and Bongokuhle Hlongwane, who were leading the line.
Makgoba and Hlongwane have been in fine form for clubs and country. And that’s why they knew that a good shift here tonight could very well put their country in good standings heading into the final match away at the Cape Coast.
But it was the experience and understanding between mates Tau and Dolly that were influential for Bafana when they were in attack mode. As a result, Dolly made some nice breakthroughs into their opponents final third early in the game.
Zimbabwe, though, were not completely out of it – despite knowing that they didn't have anything to lose. They applied the pressure when they could with Kaizer Chiefs attacker and captain of the day, Khama Billiat, looking to lead the attack.
But they squandered their clear-cut opportunity when Ismael Wadi went face-to-face with Williams but only for Thibang Phethe to make a timeous tackle. Bafana appeared to lower their tempo, drawing the Zimbabweans closer to them.
And that’s when Bafana pounced. Dolly proved why he was probably the missing puzzle in the Bafana set-up in recent matches, whipping a delightful square-ball which found an unmarked Mokoena who headed home into an empty net.
The Zimbabweans appeared to be the more reinvigorated side early in the second half as Billiat tested Williams from a set-piece, but that didn’t bear any fruits as the Bafana captain comfortably collected.
Dolly thought he had found the double for the South Africans after unleashing a curler from the edge of the box but Mhari was again the difference as he tipped the shot over the crossbar.
As a resultant of the corner-kick, Tau whipped in a telling cross which found Hlongwane, who forced Mhari into a fine save. In the end, Bafana held on for their fourth win in the qualifiers as they comfortably went three points clear at the top of the log.