|NO GOAL! The referee clearly has his arm raised for Cameroon goal|
GOOD OLD SHAKES! He’s done it again. A 1-1 draw against African footballing giants Cameroon in Gabon? That’s not bad. Not bad at all.
And as the picture above shows, the Cameroon goal should NEVER have been allowed. Porto’s 22-year-old Victor Aboubakar struck his sixth-minute free-kick brilliantly, but the referee clearly had his arm up indicating an indirect free-kick, having penalised Themba Zwane - harshly I felt - for “foot-up” and dangerous play.
Though goalkeeper Brilliant Khuzwayo came under fire for not getting to Aboubakar’s effort, the Kaizer Chiefs stopper should have simply let the ball go in.
Khuzwayo, diving to his left, came under fire for letting the ball “go right through him” as SABC analyst Deshi Bhaktawer (a former Orlando Pirates goalkeeper just back from coaching Atletico Kolkota to India PSL glory) put it. But was he aware the free-kick was supposed to be indirect and moved late?
Despite that injustice, and a difficult first half in general (the SABC struggled too, losing the satellite signal for much of the first 45 minutes when an Outside Broadcast truck lost a generator), Mashaba’s half-time team-talk seemed to work wonders in Libreville.
And as they did in last Sunday’s farewell friendly against Zambia, the substitutions worked the magic. Though the SABC coverage lacked information on replacements, the anonymous Bernard Parker was taken off during the interval for Wits’ impact sub Sibusiso Vilakazi.
As last season’s PSL player of the year showed Sudan in Shakes’ opening Group A qualifier game: Vilakazi knows how to change a game.
SuperSport United’s Thuso Phala came on for Andile Jali, who took a knock in the first half, after 68 minutes and Kaizer Chiefs’ Mandla Masanga came on for Zwane after the equaliser, with ten minutes to go.
And suddenly the Les Lions Indomptables looked remarkably domitable. Captain Dean Furman appeared to have more room – he may play for Doncaster Rovers in England’s third division, but he is as fit as a fiddle – while Phala found width and gaps began to open up.
Vilakazi’s equaliser in the 76th minute was a thing of beauty, as he controlled on the edge of the box, beat one... then two... defender and fired home. BOOM! The unbeaten run was secure once more.
Phala nearly created a second, his left foot opening up the flank and unsettling the now-limp Lions. And by the time the final whistle blew, the crowd in Libreville – limited to 5000 by the Gabon FA – knew South Africa were the only likely winners.
Afterwards, Mashaba said: “We’d like to thank Cameroon for this training match, but as I’ve said, there are no friendlies between nations. They were determined. My boys did well. Now we just have to sort out first 10-20 minutes of the game.
|The Unshaken: Bafana boss Ephraim Mashaba|
Mashaba, who has a final pre-Afcon friendly to come on Wednesday against Mali, confirmed the suspension of Reneilwe Letsholonyane and Tower Mathoho for the opening game in Mongomo against Africa’s top-ranked side Algeria and said: “Tonight we had to try other players, new combinations."
With Belgian-based goalkeeper Darren Keet flying out after the game to visit his pregnant wife (he'll be back on Monday), Mashaba survived yet another test of his credentials with aplomb. But as we’ve said before, the man is a born survivor.
Captain Furman said: “We got off to the worst possible start but in the end we were disappointed not to win it. We showed terrific character.
“It was a good strike for their goal but we kept believing. We've got to believe. We’ve grown again today against a good team, we played some lovely stuff.”
Though Gloria Brown’s unorthodox commentary and the SABC’s signal failure might have ruined the game for some, Mashaba knows Cameroon – ranked 9th in Africa – were hanging in at the finish against South Africa, a modest 12th on the continent.
There are tough times ahead. Algeria are Africa’s No 1, Ghana are ranked 5th and Senegal 8th. But on this showing, with Rivaldo Coetzee and Tyson Hlatshwayo forming a reasonable centre-back pairing at the first attempt, Bafana won’t be easy to beat when the tournament kicks off next weekend.
Shakes set a target of 5 points from Group C and laughs off the “Group of Death” tag. He says he’s “not there to make up the numbers” and insists continental conquest is a possibility. Suddenly that healthy optimism is looking eminently reasonable.