It wasn’t pretty, despite some eye-catching passing. But Bafana Bafana will take some positives from their Cosafa Cup opening performance after defeating neighbours Botswana 1-0 at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium yesterday.
In the opening game of the tournament in Gqeberha, Eswatini defeated neighbours Lesotho 3-1 as they climbed to pole position in Group A. But a solo Bafana goal game against Botswana ensured that the hosting nation started on a high note as well.
Bafana are yet to recover from their epic failure to qualify for the Africa Cup of Nations next year. But by winning the Cosafa Cup, they would show their intentions of turning over a new leaf. But their restructuring phase hasn’t had a smooth start.
They were without coach Hugo Broos for their international friendly against Uganda as he’s back home in Belgium for his Covid-19 vaccine. Second assistant Cedomir Janevski also missed that game, due to isolation after testing positive for Covid-19.
As a result, Helman Mkhalele had to run solo in the dugout. The South African footballing legend got the job done, his makeshift Bafana side defeating the Cranes 3-2. But Mkhalele missed out on this Cosafa encounter, following a positive Covid-19 test.
The Morena Ramoreboli Bafana side had eight debutants, including captain Veli Mothwa. At home, Bafana dominated possession in the opening stage of the encounter. Engine room duo Siyethemba Sithebe and Siphelele Mkhulise make the team tick.
It was, however, Monnapule Saleng, the new Orlando Pirates signee from Free State Stars, who was tiring Botswana’s defence. But that didn’t bear any fruit as his shots were astray from the target or there wasn’t support from his striking partners.
But despite Bafana’s mesmerising play in the engine room, with Sithebe and Mkhulise dishing up some nice passes, Botswana were the first team to test the waters. Segolame Boy hit a volley on the edge of the box from after a Motshusi Johnson cutback.
Mothwa proved to be a liveware in goal, tipping the effort over the crossbar. The two teams went into the break deadlocked though. In the second half, the South Africans picked up where they left off in the first: dominating the fair share of possession.
That wasn’t good enough, though, as they didn’t make inroads into the Zebras’ final third. As a result, they were nearly punished by Thatayone Kgamanyane who saw his volley inside the box hit the crossbar after a lovely delivery from the left flank.
Bafana, though, didn’t need interplay to break the deadlock. Instead, left-back Nyiko Mobbi delivered a high-flying ball which substitute Kagiso Malinga intercepted in the air before diagonally hitting a diagonal hard and slow shot past Ezekiel Morake.
Before that, Ethan Brooks had tested Morake in goals, but his effort shaved the roof of the net. In the end, it was not pretty, but Bafana got their Cosafa Cup campaign to a flyer. They’ll meet Group A leaders Eswatini tomorrow at the same venue.