BAFANA BEAT CONGO FEVER
African football getting somewhere as Congolese fans embrace qualifier in the true spirit of the beautiful game
Bafana’s Tokelo Rantie celebrates his goal with Bongani Ndulula and Thulani Serero during the African Cup of Nations qualifier against Congo at Stade Municipal de Pointe-Noire Stadium, Congo Brazzaville yesterday.
Three more points and Bafana Bafana will secure a ticket to next year’s Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) in Morocco. This could be as early as Wednesday – if they beat the same Congo-Brazzaville side at Peter Mokaba Stadium in Polokwane. This after they broke Congolese hearts in their own backyard yesterday.
Shakes Mashaba is set to become the first coach since Carlos Parreira in 2008 to qualify Bafana for the continental showpiece.
It took just five minutes for Bafana Bafana to go back to the top of Group A and have one leg in next year’s Afcon.
Mashaba must have come down hard on his players at interval as they came back a different team in the second half.
But it took another brilliant save from Senzo Meyiwa in the 49th minute to keep them in the game.
The response was swift, as Bongani Ndulula put them ahead in the 54th minute with a well-taken bicycle kick. Two minutes later, Tokelo Rantie put the game beyond Congo’s reach with another good goal after a brilliant pass from Dean Furman. From then on, all Bafana needed was to be alert and protect their goals, which they did with aplomb as they gave nothing away at the back.
Bafana were not overawed by the occasion and the intimidating atmosphere, even though it took them some time to get going.
As expected, the Red Devils were the busiest early on in the game and Meyiwa had to come to Bafana’s rescue in the seventh and ninth minutes.
But after absorbing the pressure, Bafana slowly got their footing with Andile Jali and Furman finding their footing in the middle of the park. Bafana could have taken the lead, only for Rantie to waste a best-laid ball from Thulani Serero.
It was a scrappy affair as chances were limited, although both sides looked like scoring every time they pushed forward.
To the locals’ disappointment, Moroccan referee Bouchaïb El Ahrach waived play on in the 43rd minute after Thievy Guivane went down in the box.
And the scoreboard was still asking for some action when El Ahrach blew for the break with both sides yet to score.
The weather gods were also smiling on the South Africans as conditions were perfect for a good football match. It was partly cloudy and not extremely hot as it was expected, although it was humid.
The only challenge for Bafana was to adapt to the artificial surface but it was not a problem as they were quick to get their act together and they settled in.
Bafana were welcomed by some rowdy supporters who made it clear they were in for a hiding.
Most of them, who couldn’t get seats in the already-packed stadium, seem to be Kaizer Chiefs followers as they all made a two-finger sign – implying Bafana were going to go down 2-0. They got the scoreline right, but only the wrong side.
The South Africans were not to be intimidated by those tactics as they stayed focused and singing their usual pep-up songs.
Bafana had been warned about this kind of reception and they did heed the warning as they ignored the intimidating tactics, and went on with their cores on the field.
The stadium was packed to capacity two hours prior to kick-off, making it difficult to move around. You needed to be here to experience the atmosphere first hand as the stadium erupted when the home side came in for a warm up.
But inside the stadium, the locals were friendly to the visitors, unlike 17 years ago when gun-touting soldiers intimidated Bafana.
The country has transformed beyond imagination and word on the ground is that people are tired of fighting and all they want is peace. Mashaba had also emphasised the importance of turning the negatives into positives and using football as a unifying force.
African football is getting somewhere.
ON THE BALL Bafana Bafana’s Tokelo Rantie battles with Bissiki Davy of Congo-Brazzaville during the African Cup of Nations Qualifier at Stade Municipal de PointeNoire Stadium in Congo-Brazzaville yesterday