Cape Town - Ronwen Williams was the star performer for Bafana Bafana who tasted defeat in their opening 2023 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier against Morocco, in Rabat, on Thursday.
The 2-1 defeat could have been substantially bigger had Williams not pulled off a few spectacular saves, but was ultimately let down by his supporting defence, who were exposed out wide.
In the first half, Morocco did enough to end up with at least two goals but Williams produced world-class saves and the game would have been out of reach for Bafana Bafana by then.
The 21-year-old Belgium-based striker Lyle Foster was SA's next best performer. He showed a remarkable calmness in front of goal, despite the attention of two Moroccan defenders. He did well to ghost past Morocco's rearguard to pick up Sphephelo Sithole's defence-splitting kick ahead and work his way goalward.
He did well to shield the ball on attack and looks like a fine prospect for the national team in future. On occasions, he was left out on his own when he might have benefitted from support deep inside the opposition half.
There may be a question mark around his fitness and just past the hour mark, he made way for Phathutshedzo Nange, who did well during his 30-minute stint. He will have strong claims for a run-on slot rather than play off the substitutes’ bench in future matches.
Sithole had made a great impact early in the eighth minute when he supplied the feed for Foster's goal. He was not able to hold his own in midfield as the Moroccans bossed the midfield battles. With some experience, the Portugal-based Sithole will prove to be an asset to the national team.
It did appear that he was suffering from a first-half knock which slowed him down. At halftime, he assured the technical staff that he was strong enough to continue but he left the field with an injury late in the match when he was not immediately replaced. Just after leaving the field, Morocco scored the winner after substitute Yusuf Maart lost possession.
The PSL 'Defender of the Season' Lyle Lakay, who was used as a defending midfielder out wide on the left was cruelly exposed by some of Morocco's finest players Achraf Hakimi (Paris Saint-Germain), Aymen Barkok (Eintracht Frankfurt) and Ilias Chair (Queens Park Rangers). He was hopelessly out of his depth, especially in the second half when Morocco took full advantage.
Equally poor on the night was debutant Taariq Fielies who, playing behind Lakay, failed to offer support. He managed some strong performances in the PSL this season, and that opened the way for his entry into the national team. However, he did not look the part of an international defender against Morocco.
Given the poor performances of Lakay and Fielies, Bafana Bafana may have to ditch their 3-4-3 formation for a 4-4-3 playing pattern when coming up against higher-ranked teams.