Bafana Bafana may well be on their way home from the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) after a 1-0 loss against Morocco on Monday. The defeat confirms a third-placed finish in Group D and coach Stuart Baxter can now only rely on a tenuous hope that the results in the remaining games do not usurp South Africa as one of the top four third-place finishers.
While conceding in the 89th minute surely felt gut-wrenching, Baxter can only blame himself and his players for not taking the game to their more esteemed opponents.
Cagey is perhaps the most generous word we can use to describe the first half.
Bafana appeared hungry at kick-off but the assessment proved immature as both sides settled into a dull back and forth far away from anybody’s goal. Neither looked overly eager to create and the game devolved into a stuttering affair as the referee was forced to resort to his whistle seemingly every minute. Morocco in particular, showed no hesitation in putting their studs in when the opportunity arose.
The first hint of danger at the Al-Salam stadium wafted in at the 35-minute as Percy Tau did his Percy Tau thing and checked on his left — his shot painfully close to the outside of the upright.
Younès Belhanda would drive the ball straight at Ronwen Williams a few minutes later, providing the first hint of goalkeeping work for the night and the last highlight of the opening stanza.
The Atlas Lions evidently decided in the second half that they didn’t show up for a mere 0-0 procession and repeatedly knocked at the South African door.
By the hour mark Achraf Hakimi would hammer the post from 25-yards with a spectacular shot after beautiful lead-up play. Youssef En-Nesyri, a few minutes later, rounded Williams but couldn’t convert his off-balance shot.
A Thamsanqa Mkhize scorcher notwithstanding, Bafana looked completely content to see out a draw. For most of the game their stubborn defending was enough to secure that … right up until the 89th minute. A free kick from the left was poorly cleared and Mbark Boussoufa happily finished after it dropped to him kindly.
There was never going to be a threat to that 1-0 scoreline in the time that remained. Bafana duly punished for their passive play.
It’s now time to call in those favours in the games that remain and pray that the disappointing three points from the group stage will be enough to sneak into the round of 16.