Thursday could not have gone too much better for Bafana Bafana, who clinically edged Zimbabwe 1-0 to take a three-point lead in their 2022 World Cup qualifying Group G with one match left to play against Ghana in Cape Coast on Sunday.
This followed Ghana being held 1-1 by Ethiopia earlier at Orlando Stadium in a matchup you would have put your money on the Black Stars to win.
Though, to be hypercritical, one way Thursday might have gone marginally better for the South Africans was if they had scored more goals against Zimbabwe.
SA (13 points) take a three-point lead and +5 goal difference to Cape Coast. But that also means Ghana (10 points and +3) can draw level with Bafana on a +4 difference with a 1-0 win. Then the decision on the group winner comes to most goals scored, and the Black Stars (now six to SA’s five) will be higher on that, and progress.
So Bafana still need a draw or a win in Ghana, despite their three-point lead they take to the final match.
Nonetheless, just for the moment, before the calculators are pulled out for the final round, what is to be savoured is that Hugo Broos’ young Bafana are in the perhaps best position yet of any SA team in years to qualify for a World Cup.
In the opening half Bafana looked comfortable on the ball and relatively calm in defence, though at times stretched by the pace of the Zimbabweans. SA pulled Zimbabwe’s defence in opposite directions across the field impressively to open spaces.
Zimbabwe’s dangerous runners did stretch SA, especially Nyiko Mobbie at right-back on occasion, as both sides came out moving the ball across the snooker table FNB surface to create half-chances.
Early on dangerous right-wing trickster Ishmael Wadi, the 28-year-old scoring goals in SA’s GladAfrica Championship for JDR Stars, beat Bongokuhle Hlongwane down the middle outside a box and steered a low show wide.
SA took the lead with a delicious build-up across the face of Zimbabwe’s area from left to right, where Keagan Dolly was in space to produce a cross of technical wonder that found central midfielder Mokoena to have intelligently ghosted to the far post. The unmarked SuperSport United man buried his header past goalkeeper Petros Mhari.
Bafana’s measured and calculated approach justified their singe-goal lead by the break.
Mostly the traffic continued in SA’s direction in the second half.
Mobbie’s ball from inside his half found Evidence Makgopa on the run to nod a save from Mhari.
On the hour, with Bafana knocking the ball in front of the Warriors area, Dolly curled a strike that had Mhari at full stretch. The resultant corner was worked to Mobbie to cross, Makgopa heading on to the top netting.
Given the goal difference permutations that Bafana will encounter in Cape Coast, the notable blemish on the performance was that SA could not commit forward with greater urgency in the second half.
With the clock winding down substitute Fagrie Lakay struck wide from the edge of the box, and from another Mobbie cross Hlungwane headed wide. The Maritzburg striker struck a ferocious drive that Mhari palmed on to his crossbar in the 90th.