A second-string Bafana Bafana outfit earned a 1-1 draw against Zambia in a practice match at Rand Stadium on Wednesday.
With the South African Football Association downgrading the game to a training affair, the meagre crowd failed to fill even one of the four stands at the 25 000-seater stadium in the south of Johannesburg.
While the South Africans had threatened to play in their training gear, and the possibility of deviating from standard football rules was discussed beforehand, Bafana turned out in their full kit in a match split by the usual two 45-minute halves.
Bafana coach Pitso Mosimane said he was satisfied with his young squad’s performance, despite having little to play for after they failed to qualify for the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) later this month.
“We achieved our objective,” Mosimane said.
“We believe every time a door closes, another one opens … This was another draw, and maybe some people won’t be happy with that, but we are taking one step at a time … We are building and we will win games. We will get there.”
Zambia at the helm
Zambia took control in the first stanza after the South Africans had missed an early chance, with Wayne Arendse sending a close-range effort wide to the left.
The visitors struck in the eighth minute when Stoppila Sunzu fired in a well-placed header from a corner to give his side the lead.
The Zambians piled on the pressure and Collins Mbesuma hit the side netting a minute later before Rainford Kalaba knocked a tame effort over the bar.
Bafana, however, gathered themselves and hit back midway through the opening period when George Maluleka blasted an effort from outside the area, forcing Zambia goalkeeper Kennedy Mweene, who turns out for Free State Stars in the Absa Premiership, to stretch at full length to keep the ball out.
The visitors, spearheaded by Mbesuma, who is also well accustomed to South African conditions as a regular starter for Golden Arrows, wasted two golden chances with four minutes left in the first half.
First Mbesuma thundered a shot over the crossbar, and seconds later he blasted a low strike straight to Bafana goalkeeper Brilliant Khuzwayo who gathered the ball comfortably as Zambia took a 1-0 advantage into the break.
Again putting the pressure on the hosts, Rainford Kalaba had the first opportunity for Zambia two minutes into the second half, but he chipped his effort over the bar.
Mbesuma again threatened 10 minutes later but Khuzwayo managed to get his fingers to the ball, tipping it over the post.
Seconds later, however, the South Africans struck back when Ayanda Gcaba tapped in a header from inside the area to equalise for the hosts.
Desperate to regain the lead, Zambia pushed forward, with Joshua Titima and James Chamanga firing over the bar.
Christopher Katongo came close with 20 minutes left, but Khuzwayo did well to get a leg to it, keeping the ball out.
A clearly depleted Bafana side held their own in the last half hour, creating more chances than the Zambian outfit which will compete in the Afcon tournament in Equatorial Guinea and Gabon.
‘It’s not easy’
South African captain Reneilwe Letsholonyane dribbled through four defenders before he flicked a shot wide to the right from the edge of the area, and Ryan Chapman, prominent on attack when Bafana travelled up field, blasted an effort straight at Mweene from the edge of the area.
Nhlanhla Vilakazi nearly netted the winner in injury time but Mweene got his hand to the ball, tapping it centimetres over the bar.
South Africa will play another practice match against Ghana in Phokeng, outside Rustenburg, on Sunday, and Mosimane said he was pleased to give his younger players a chance against sides that will turn out at Afcon.
“It is not easy for me as the coach at the moment, and I know why — it’s because we didn’t qualify,” he said.
“But well done to Zambia and we are glad to have the opportunity against these teams.” — Sapa