Bafana, Côte d'Ivoire share Mandela Challenge

Bafana Bafana came back to force a 1-1 draw with Côte d’Ivoire in an exciting Nelson Mandela Challenge clash that meant the two sides shared the trophy at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth on Saturday.

The Ivorians took the lead through an own-goal from substitute defender Siboniso Gaxa in the 36th minute after a defensive mix up that was instigated by midfielder Yaya Toure, who had powered his way into the box.

Striker Katlego Mphela equalised for South Africa in the 53rd minute with a trademark free-kick taken outside the box, stunningly landing on the right hand side corner of the post.

In the team’s first match since failing in the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers last month, Bafana gave an impressive display against the star-studded Ivorians—who are also the continent’s best ranked team—in front of 23 000 supporters at the picturesque venue.

Bafana—sporting a new national kit—had several top players back in Tsepo Masilela, with captain Steven Pienaar and Kagisho Dikgacoi back in midfield, while Côte d’Ivoire included Kolo and Yaya Toure and Gervinho in their starting line up.

Losing momentum
The South Africans started the match off well even though they lost some offensive momentum when Masilela had to be replaced halfway through the first-half with right-footed Gaxa after picking up a suspected groin injury.

They nearly took the lead in the 15th minute when midfielder Reneilwe Letsholonyane slipped in a through ball for Mphela, whose attempt with his weaker left foot was easily deflected by goalkeeper Boubacar Barry in the visitors’ goal.

Morgan Gould snicked in a header after 30 minutes from a Siphiwe Tshababala free kick that drew another save from Barry before Mphela fluffed another opportunity shortly before the interval after being supplied by Dikgacoi.

The Ivorians, who arrived two days before the match, provided their classy touches in patches, more especially the opening half where winger Seydou Doumba looked a threat.

Doumba drew a save from keeper Moeneeb Josephs in the early moments with the Bafana defence caught flat-footed.

Spirited away
After the hour mark and against the run of play, Josephs needed to make two blinding saves to deny efforts from Doumba and Gradel Max to keep his side in play.

Having being 1-0 down at half-time, Bafana came back with a spirited display in the second stanza as they created a host of chances and managed to equalise seven minutes into the half.

They surged forward soon after in search of the winner with Tshabalala shooting over the bar moments later after combining well with Pienaar.

Tshabalala probed the left flank with his final cross on the edge of the box, nearly forcing an own goal from defender Kolo Toure that would have seen the hosts take the lead.

With 12 minutes left to play, right-back Anele Ngcongca managed a cross to Mphela, who drew a save from Barry before Ngcongca was well tackled inside the box as he attempted to squeeze in the rebound.

A draw from this match ensured that Bafana maintained their unbeaten run against the West African nation since their first meeting back in 1994. They have won once and drawn the three other meetings.—Sapa

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