Bafana Bafana huffed and puffed, and eventually blew the Paraguay house down as Percy Tau finished a stoppage-time equaliser to secure a 1-1 draw in the Nelson Mandela Challenge in Durban on Tuesday night.
Coach Stuart Baxter made a number of changes to the starting line-up, with just captain Thulani Hlatshwayo, midfielder Tiyani Mabunda and strikers Tau and Lebo Mothiba remaining from the 1-1 draw with Nigeria on Saturday.
The changes resulted in an initially shaky Bafana display, though, particularly in defence.
The tone was set by skipper Hlatshwayo, who scuffed a clearance in the sixth minute after being put under pressure by Ramahlwe Mphahlele’s pass.
Paraguay certainly displayed more cohesion on attack, with left wing Cecilio Dominguez causing lots of problems for Mphahlele and Co with his pace and ability to cut inside.
The greater experience of the South Americans was evident, but for Baxter and Bafana, it was a vital hit-out for future Africa Cup of Nations and World Cup qualifiers.
The South Africans’ first real chance came in the 13th minute when the busy Vincent Pule squared the ball, but it was just behind Lebohang Maboe.
Soon after that, Paraguay nearly scored when Federico Santander was put through on goal, but new SA goalkeeper Darren Keet did well to come out and put off the big striker, who hit the upright.
Bafana got more into the game the longer it wore on, but the breakthrough came from the visitors in the 32nd minute.
A horror error by Motjeka Madisha saw his poor clearance picked up by Paraguay, and the ball was quickly moved to Dominguez, whose shot was parried by Keet.
But Santander was on hand to tap it in for the 1-0 lead.
Pule, who impressed with his movement from the left-hand side, got yet another shot on goal, but goalkeeper Antony Silva made a good save.
It was nearly 2-0 to Paraguay before halftime when Dominguez produced a thunderous shot that beat Keet, but again the upright came to Bafana’s rescue.
The South Africans pushed forward with greater confidence in the second half, with Pule a constant threat, but they just lacked the final pass or touch to bury the ball into the back of the net in the slippery conditions.
Striker Mothiba also didn’t see much of the action, with the play revolving around Pule and Tau.
Baxter introduced Thulani Serero late in the game, and the former Ajax Amsterdam midfielder came up with the decisive play that earned Bafana a deserved draw.
In the third minute of stoppage time, Serero showed his skill to deliver a perfect defence-splitting pass that put Tau in the clear, and the former Mamelodi Sundowns display his class to chip Silva for the equaliser.
Now it’s a lengthy break for Bafana, with Baxter having plenty to ponder ahead of the final Afcon qualifier away to Libya in March, where SA need a point to go through to the finals in Cameroon.@ashfakmohamed