BAFANA BEAT CONGO FEVER

African foot­ball get­ting some­where as Con­golese fans embrace qual­i­fier in the true spirit of the beau­ti­ful game

CityPress - - Front Page - TI­MOTHY MOLOBI in POINTE-NOIRE ti­mothy@city­press.co.za

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.

PHOTO: BACK­PAGEPIX

PHOTO: MUZI NTOMBELA / BACK­PAGEPIX

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

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