MID­FIELD DOM­I­NA­TION PAYS OFF

Proteas crum­ble to get booted out of ICC Cham­pi­ons Tro­phy in South Africa’s only fail­ure this week­end ...

The Star Early Edition - - FRONT PAGE - MA­ZOLA MOLEFE

Bafana’s mid­field dom­i­na­tion pays off

WITH the mid­field bat­tle won on Satur­day night, fol­low­ing Bafana Bafana’s his­toric vic­tory over Nige­ria here, an­chor­man Bon­gani Zungu re­vealed clear in­struc­tions from coach Stu­art Bax­ter dic­tated that South Africa not to al­low Su­per Ea­gles cap­tain Ogenyi Onazi any room.

“He’s such a qual­ity player and at some point dur­ing the game he was able to get the ball be­tween me and Dean (Fur­man), but for­tu­nately our de­fence was press­ing high enough to make sure the ball didn’t get to their strik­ers,” Zungu said after the 2-0 win at the Godswill Ak­pabio In­ter­na­tional Sta­dium, a first ever for South Africa over their coun­ter­parts in a qual­i­fy­ing match.

Bax­ter opted for Zungu and Fur­man in the heart of mid­field, hav­ing toyed with the idea of adding a third cen­tral de­fen­sive player just to tighten up that area, where Onazi and Le­ices­ter City’s Wil­fred Ndidi were ex­pected to be deadly.

But they hardly got go­ing as Bafana held their own and got sec­ond-half goals from strik­ers Tokelo Rantie and Percy Tau, the lat­ter scor­ing sec­onds after com­ing on.

“I think they dom­i­nated the game in the first 20 min­utes. We knew we were up against it,” said Zungu. “We had to keep a cool head. I re­mem­ber shout­ing in­struc­tions to Dean and the rest of the play­ers that we should not lose our heads. I said it’s tough be­cause we are play­ing away, but it is nor­mal that they will dom­i­nate ear­lier be­cause of their qual­ity, but we just had to re­main calm. I was just happy they didn’t score in the first half.”

Nige­ria never looked like scor­ing, and when they pressed for an equaliser, Tau ended the 2019 Africa Cup of Na­tions qual­i­fier as a con­test with nine min­utes to go.

Zungu said the longer the game dragged on with­out the hosts break­ing the dead­lock, Bafana found their rhythm and would sud­denly rise from their un­der­dog tag. The Por­tu­gal-based mid­fielder was par­tic­u­larly im­pres­sive, es­pe­cially con­sid­er­ing this was his first ap­pear­ance for the na­tional team since Novem­ber 2015.

“The coach em­pha­sised us keep­ing our dis­ci­pline and be­ing slaves on the pitch,” he said. “It was ev­i­dent on match day. They were play­ing at home and we were slaves, run­ning around and chas­ing. It’s nor­mal, they are Nige­ria. Credit should also go to our de­fence. It doesn’t mat­ter how you play th­ese sort of games. My ex­pe­ri­ence in Por­tu­gal (for Vitória de Guimarães) is that away games are ex­tremely tough and how you de­fend is im­por­tant be­cause the longer the game goes on, the bet­ter for an away team. I just knew the game was go­ing to open up and I am happy we scored. Mis­takes hap­pened, but ev­ery­one was solid. Our wingers (Kea­gan Dolly and Themba Zwane) were also help­ing a lot be­cause they were squeez­ing in. Onazi couldn’t find the passes in be­tween.”

Onazi and Ndidi were al­most played off the park by Zungu and Fur­man.

“We stud­ied them,” Zungu said. “The only thing we had to do was stop him from play­ing the balls in be­tween us. I think he found one or two and we were re­ally not happy. But for the rest of the game we closed them down.” MORE ON

PIC­TURE: BACKPAGEPIX

HOICK! Bon­gani Zungu of South Africa clears the ball as Oghenekaro Etebo of Nige­ria looks on dur­ing Satur­day’s match.

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