There was a slim chance that Bafana Bafana could still go to next year’s World Cup in Russia, even after last Friday’s elimination.
But coach Stuart Baxter’s men needed to win this away clash against a Senegal side that beat them 2-0 at the Peter Mokaba Stadium four days earlier to shatter their dream.
However, with a pending decision from the Court Arbitration for Sport (CAS) over last year’s fixture between the two national teams – that Fifa ordered to be replayed due to an allegation the match was fixed – an opportunity to still book their ticket to the global tournament had presented itself.
And Bafana players were well aware, having been informed of this “boardroom” decision that could potentially change their fortunes.
A win in Dakar on Tuesday night was necessary as it would have meant Bafana only needed back those three points taken away in the replay to finish top of the group.
But like they did in Polokwane during the home leg, Baxter’s men lacked the bite that could have given them the edge in going down 2-1 on Tuesday night.
So, it is officially over. Even if CAS overturns the call to order a replay, it would be a bridge too far for South Africa.
Senegal - Bafana Bafana 2-1: Match stats pic.twitter.com/P0w6r9QudX
The game had a dead-rubber feel to it, especially in the first half when only one shot on target was registered when Sibusiso Vilakazi found himself unmarked in the box, but sent his shot straight at the keeper.
There were two goals in the second half, and there should have been more.
A mistake by the unlikeliest of sources created an opening for the home side, eager for a big party as they celebrated qualifying for the World Cup in front of their own crowd, to take the lead through Opa Nguette.
Goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune needlessly came off his line to take up the role of sweeper-keeper, but this was a complete miscalculation on his part.
With at least two defenders around him and providing cover, captain-on-the-night Khune misjudged the pace of the ball and was some distance off his line when Nguette lobbed the ball over – with no goalkeeper in sight – to break the deadlock in the 55th minute.
Bafana then got a penalty a few minutes later when winger Themba Zwane was fouled. It is unlikely that he is the designated penalty-taker, but the player dusted himself up to take the spot-kick and embarrassingly shot wide, leaving Bafana still chasing the game.
And they were able to claw their way back through striker Percy Tau, who received a good pass from Keagan Dolly to squeeze the ball into the far post to draw level in the 65th minute.
Bafana had a few more chances to win the match and leave their slim chance of heading to the World Cup to the pending CAS ruling, but they fluffed those.
Senegal then grabbed all three points with virtually the last kick of the game when defender Kara Mbodji rose high and beat an out-of-sorts Khune – who wasn’t sporting the face mask he wore in Polokwane.
There’s now no way back for Bafana – with questions asked over coach Baxter’s role in a disastrous campaign that means South Africa only won one out of the six World Cup qualifiers.