Stuart Baxter instructs Lebogang Manyama. Photo: Kabiru Abubakar/BackpagePix

IT may have been just a friendly, but goalkeeper Ronwen Williams made yet another Bafana Bafana appearance he will want to forget.

Having started the game between South Africa and Zambia at the Moruleng Stadium on Tuesday from the bench, the SuperSport United goalkeeper replaced Darren Keet at half-time with Bafana leading 1-0 and proceeded to concede twice – beaten at the near post by Brian Mwila for the first, before Lubinda Mundia capitalised from a defensive blunder to grab the lead in the 80th minute as Zambia emerged 2-1 winners.

Williams is no stranger to dreadful national team cameos. In March 2014, then-Bafana coach Gordon Igesund handed young Williams his debut against Brazil, the five-time world champions, who thrashed South Africa 5-0 at the FNB Stadium. 

Although he’s likely to be over it now, Tuesday night’s result, with the Zambian goals coming soon after he’d been thrown in as Keet made way, would have hurt his reputation at this stage.      

This friendly turned out to be pretty decent for two sides who were possibly tired following contrasting fortunes in their opening 2019 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers at the weekend. 

South Africa made the trip to Uyo in Nigeria and shocked the Super Eagles with a 2-0 win in their own backyard, a sweet victory as it was the first time ever that they beat their continental counterparts in a qualifying match.

Zambia also suffered a surprise loss at home against Mozambique, who scored with virtually the last kick of the match to win 1-0 in Ndola.  

As expected then, both side fielded fresh faces in Phokeng for their international friendly and the Zambians walked away the happier of the two teams, clawing their way back from a goal down to punish lacklustre defending and goalkeeping to end Bafana’s 18-match unbeaten run – with 15 of those matches under Shakes Mashaba, who was sacked in December. 

Bafana could have edged it with a solitary goal from Lebogang Manyama in the 23rd minute, his first for the national team and perhaps confirmation that he might just be ready for the international stage.

But Mwila cancelled it out deep into the second half as he beat Williams. The ideal, as Baxter had revealed before and after the Nigeria game, was to give every player he’d picked in his 25-man squad a chance to play. 

A victory may have been good for the morale and future opportunities, while defeat calls for the coach to widen the pool of young and inexperienced players over the coming weeks.

Bafana’s back four failed to stay focused in critical phases and were punished for it. Not a single player who started against Nigeria was on the pitch at kickoff, but Manyama, Percy Tau and Tiyani Mabunda, who came off the bench in Uyo, were picked in the first XI.

Baxter now looks ahead to the Cosafa Cup early next month, where he has said he will use the bulk of the Under-20 national team that featured at the youth World Cup in South Korea last month and bring in one or two veterans to guide them.

Independent Media

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