South Africa’s chances of qualifying for the knockout phase of the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) took a hammer blow at the Al Salam Stadium in Cairo on Monday night when they conceded a 90th-minute goal in a 1-0 defeat to Morocco in their final Group D match.
Bafana, with only three points on the board, will now have to wait for the final group fixtures to take place before they find out if they qualify for the last 16 by virtue of being one of the four best third-placed teams from the six groups – which would be asking for several results to go their way.
But with just one goal scored from their three games, and having looked so off-color offensively, a place in the next round would be more than Bafana deserve, to put it honestly.
As has been the case throughout the tournament for Stuart Baxter’s men, the 1996 AFCON champions struggled to find any kind of fluency in attack and barely threatened the opposition’s goalkeeper throughout the game; on the balance of play, the Atlas Lions were certainly worthy winners.
Even the introduction of Thulani Serero to the starting XI did little to spark a team seemingly short on confidence and creativity.
Morocco, knowing a draw would be enough to end the top of the group, did not need to be overly adventurous going forward.
But as it was, the North Africans looked more threatening and cohesive in the attack, although apart from a couple of dangerous balls into the box, they also failed to really put the Bafana goal under pressure in the first half.
After a rather cagey and disjointed opening 30 minutes from both sides in a steamy Cairo, the first real chance of the game fell the way of South Africa. But having done well to fashion some space for himself on the edge of the box, Percy Tau fizzed a sweetly-struck shot just inches wide.
Moments later, Morocco had their best opportunity of the first half when Youssef El-Nesyri came within a whisker of getting a head to Nordin Amrabat’s teasing cross before Younes Belhanda’s follow up effort was comfortably saved by Ronwen Williams.
For a few minutes after the interval, Bafana showed a greater sense of urgency and there was a chance on 50 minutes which saw Thamsanqa Mkhize blazing a low shot narrowly wide of the target.
But it didn’t last long as the Atlas Lions came storming back with opportunities of their own as El-Nesyri flashed a header just wide before Achraf Hakimi thudded a 20-yard shot against the crossbar on the hour mark.
Bafana were living dangerously, and they had a lucky escape when El-Nesyri ran onto a defence-splitting pass before going around Williams, only to shank his parting shot horribly wide of an empty net, albeit from a tight angle.
With South Africa unable to muster a late rally for a winner, Morocco took the initiative – and after a sustained period of pressure, Moubarak Boussoufa pounced with a volleyed goal after the Bafana defence had failed to clear a free-kick in the final minute of regulation time.
It could have got even worse for South Africa – in terms of goal difference – had the Herve Renard-led team taken one of a couple more scoring chances in added time.
In partnership with ANA and Mediapix