/ 1 December 2011

Baby Bafana draw as qualifying chances diminish

Baby Bafana again conceded a late equaliser to draw 1-1 with plucky Gabon in their African under 23 Championship encounter in Marrakech, Morocco, on Wednesday.

The South African team’s chances of qualifying for the semifinals and next year’s Olympic Games in London now hang by a thread as they were left flailing in third place in their group with one round of matches left.

Their second successive draw — having played to a 1-1 stalemate with Côte d’Ivoire on Sunday — left them on two points, facing a tough final group match against Egypt on Saturday.

Bad defence
Coach Shakes Mashaba lashed out at his defence.

“Nobody asked them to sit back and defend,” said a dejected Mashaba.

“Players will tend to use their own methods [in defending a lead] and we conceded from a corner kick. Our picking up from the back was not right … congratulations to Gabon. They did well to get their first point of the tournament,” Mashaba said.

He assured that the South Africans would be ready for their crunch match against Egypt.

“We know what to expect and we will plan for them as we have done for the other matches in this tournament.”

South Africa is expected to have defender Eric Mathoho (injured) and central midfielder Thami Sangweni (suspended) available for selection.

Côte d’Ivoire defeated Egypt 1-0 in Wednesday’s late game, and Baby Bafana must win against the Egyptians this weekend to reach the playoffs.

The top three sides in the competition automatically qualify for next year’s Olympics in London, with the losing semifinalists set to enter a playoff with an Asian country.

The South Africans had opened the scoring through Mandla Masango with a 40th minute header after a cross from striker Rodney Ramagalela.

Gabon replied through Diderot Lengoualama 11 minutes from time, finishing off a corner kick as the South Africans crucially lost concentration at the back.

Just as they cracked after a second-half onslaught against Côte d’Ivoire at the weekend, Baby Bafana allowed Gabon to claw their way back into the match, having dominated for nearly an hour.

The Gabonese had shown the same fighting spirit on Sunday, despite their 1-0 loss to Egypt, and were particularly threatening when offered space to manuevre in the final third of the field.

The South Africans started off tentatively with Gabon powering through in the early exchanges with their bulky forwards, Lionel Yacouya and Allen Nono.

Surging ahead, Baby Bafana gained control of the match and grew in confidence in the first half, with Bhengu threading through a cross that was spilled by Willy Mikiela in the Gabonese goal.

Mikiela’s defence was also quick to close down midfielder Sameehg Doutie as he tried to slot in the rebound.

Bhengu, again, took an ambitious free-kick that sailed over the bar after 31 minutes, before hitting the post two minutes later from a Shongwe cross on the left edge of the box.

Wasted chances
Soon after, though, South Africa took the lead through Masango, and on the stroke of half-time Doutie fired a shot narrowly wide as they looked to increase the lead before the break.

Baby Bafana took control again in the second period, with two chances falling for busy striker Rodney Ramagalela, who was hasty with his finishing.

The momentum shifted when coach Shakes Mashaba brought off Ramagalela and Riaan Eugene for Khumalo and Bhongolwethu Jayiya in quick succession before the hour mark as the Gabonese clawed their way back.

While Jayiya had a chance to score immediately on entry, he ballooned his shot abysmally wide of goal, and Bhengu also wasted a free kick outside the box.

In contrast, Gabon tested Brilliant Khuzwayo through midfielder Ibrahim Ndong and substitute Ewouta Ntsitsigui, who fashioned a shot on the edge of the box that was saved by the goalkeeper.

The Central Africans, who had their keeper, Mikiela, sent off in the 86th minute for a robust foul on Khumalo, earned their first point of the tournament. — Sapa