DURBAN – South Africa’s road to the Russia 2018 World Cup was met by a roadblock when Cape Verde inflicted a second consecutive defeat on Bafana Bafana in a Group D match at the Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban on Tuesday night.
Two second-half goals by Blue Sharks attacker Garry Rodrigues left South Africa bottom of the standings after this 2-1 loss, with two matches left to play.
The supposed group whipping boys, marshalled by a former air traffic controller in Lucio Antunes, tore up the form guide as they went top of the table before the end of the other group tie between Burkina Faso and Senegal.
After Friday’s 2-1 loss in Praia, Safa president Danny Jordaan said a team can’t qualify after consecutive losses, and that is pretty much the way this qualification programme is likely to end.
A late close-range strike by late substitute Andile Jali was not even a consolation because by then, the game was wrapped up.
Changes were promised by coach Stuart Baxter after the 2-1 collapse in Praia on Friday, and he delivered by making five changes.
Key among these were veteran goalkeeper Wayne Sandilands replacing youngster Ronwen Williams, who dropped to the bench, and another experienced player in defender Morgan Gould slotting into defence in place of suspended Erick Mathoho.
Another backline adjustment saw Sifiso Hlanti take over from Tebogo Langerman at left back in a bid to add greater mobility and attacking zip to the team.
Upfront Bradley Grobler paired with Tokelo Rantie for a twin attack, and behind them Hlompho Kekana replaced Bongani Zungu, who was benched.
However, there was little to threaten goalkeeper Josimar Dias in the Cape Verde goal.
Hlanti had a cross-shot off target and Kekana thumped in a free-kick that lacked its trademark finish.
The only first half attempts on target fell to Grobler, whose header and shot found goalkeeper Dias well placed.
Sitting third in Group D, a point behind leaders Burkina Faso who played Senegal in a later clash last night, South Africa couldn’t afford a consecutive defeat.
While South Africa didn’t look like losing to the visitors, they also didn’t look like winning. They might have fallen behind earlier had Marco Soares and Rodrigues taken their opportunities.
The islanders needed to win too to stay in contention, although the pressure was on the home side to do the business against their lower ranked opponents.
A crowd of just over 10 000 attended the game which was lively enough but lacked explosiveness and a creative spark in the home attack.
It almost turned into a chess match with the teams largely cancelling each other out. If South Africa needed a spark to light up, it was provided by the visitors breaking the deadlock with an early second-half goal.
Rodrigues produced the precision and power that Bafana Bafana lacked when he drilled in a direct free-kick in the 52nd minute.
It incentivised Baxter to send on Lebohang Manyama and Andile Jali, but by the time they had settled in, South Africa were dead and buried with Rodrigues’ second goal, this time a 67th-minute finish from range in open play.
South Africa next host Burkina Faso on October 7 at FNB Stadium in Johannesburg, and end the qualifiers with a trip to Senegal on November 6.
From the five groups of four teams, the side that tops the standings at the end of this third round of qualification advances to Russia. Already qualified for next year’s showpiece, with hosts Russia, are Iran, Japan, Belgium, Mexico and Brazil.
Bafana Bafana last qualified for the quadrennial event in 2002, and owed their 2010 participation as hosts.
SA: Ramahlwe Mphahlele, Thulani Hlatshwayo (captain), Dean Furman, Keagan Dolly, Themba Zwane (Lebohang Manyama 56), Tokelo Rantie, Wayne Sandilands, Morgan Gould, Sifiso Hlanti, Hlompho Kekana (Percy Tau 78), Bradley Grobler (Andile Jali 66).
Cape Verde: Josimar Dias, Marco Soares (captain), Nuno Rocha, Ryan Mendes, Julio Tavares, Carlos Rodrigues, Tiago Almeida, Nuno Rocha, Steven Pereira, Danilson Da Cruz, Ianique dos Santos, Garry Rodrigues.