A NIGHT that almost ended in Bafana Bafana looking down the barrel of a gun yet again at an African Cup of Nations ended in triumph, as substitute Elrio van Heerden produced a scorching 87th-minute long-range equaliser for a 1-1 draw against Angola at the Tamale Sports Stadium.
With Senegal and Tunisia having drawn 2-2 in the earlier game last night, South Africa are still very much in the competition on level points with their three other Group D rivals. The South Africans, though, will be aware that they put together a far from composed, and at times concerningly disjointed, performance against the hungry, dangerous Palancas Negras.
As an opening match it never came close to reaching the lows of Bafana’s 2-0 walloping at the hands of Guinea two years ago, but it was at times disappointing. Then again this is a young team, and most of its players were making their debut on this stage.
An influential player for the national team this year, for example, has been Teko Modise, but the Orlando Pirates playmaker has never been tested on this big a stage and at times appeared overwhelmed. He grew in strength at the end, though, and will look to improve as the competition progresses.
Angola sat back for much of the game, but when they did attack always looked like they might manufacture something. South Africa at times had attractive build-ups, but too often without sting in the tail.
The South Africans started brightly and exerted considerable pressure for the first 20 minutes.
Modise’s long-range shot in the sixth minute forced a good save from goalkeeper Luis Joao, and put Angola on the back foot. Just under ten minutes later Steven Pienaar’s dangerous ball across goal was not connected by Surprise Moriri.
The game had started at a lightning pace and Angola always looked capable of taking advantage of the frenetic contest by scoring on the breakaway. Dangerman striker Flavio Amado almost did just that when chasing a long pass down the middle and being thwarted by defender Benson Mhlongo and goalkeeper Moeneeb Josephs.
Concerns about Mhlongo’s pace at the back against dangerous forwards such as Flavio and his partner Manucho proved not unfounded, and the Mamelodi Sundowns defender was stretched for pace.
And Bafana’s other major concern, an inability to finish in front of goal, also reared its head as the out-of-touch Moriri blasted over after a flick-on by Sibusiso Zuma.
Angola opened the scoring in the 29th minute with a goal against the run of play. Mhlongo stood too far off Flavio, who was able to turn, make ground down the left and chip to the far side where Manucho finished with a stunning diving header from ten metres.
After that, and despite Zuma heading Siphiwe Tshabalala’s corner wide, Bafana reverted to their all to common tendency to freeze under pressure, and ended the half in unconvincing fashion.
After the break Parreira replaced ineffective Moriri and Siphiwe Tshabalala with Lerato Chabangu and Terror Fanteni. Bafana regained their composure early in the half and wasted a golden chance when Modise’s corner was knocked across goal by Nasief Morris at the far post, but Mhlongo’s header from three metres was well off target. Lively substitute Ze Kalanga then shot just wide at the other end.
With ten minutes to go Fanteni’s blistering shot from was kept out by Joao, and monents later Modise’s free-kick swung in from the left was almost scrambled over the line.
In the 87 minute Van Heerden brought South Africa back into the competition with a long-range effort that matched any of the gems that have already been produced in the competition.
Bafana are still in the competition, and, while there were clear flaws, showed a fighting spirit to claw their way back from the brink that has been sorely lacking at previous Nations Cups. Hope is still alive.