Chilly weather, tight security, an electrifying atmosphere and missed chances are some of the things which characterized the FIFA 2014 World Cup qualifier between the Zebras and South Africa played at the 8,000 seater UB Stadium on Saturday afternoon.┬á
In the end, most of the home fans left the stadium disappointed as poor finishing once again denied the Zebras what could have been a historic win against struggling Bafana Bafana. The result leaves the Zebras at the bottom of the group with a point from two games.
Both sides put the supporters on the edge of their seats the entire first half but failed to utilize the chances created. Zebras’ defender, Ndiyapo Letsholathebe, rose high in the opening minutes but saw his header rattling the crossbar with the visitors’ goalkeeper, Itumeleng Khune, stranded.
That missed chance came to haunt the Zebras in the 14th minute when Morgan Gould headed home a well taken corner kick by their skipper, Steven Pienaar.
While a band of South African supporters sang their famous “Shosholoza”, the local supporters remained rooted to their seats wondering if it was one of those games when the Zebras are in for a hiding. It took some time for the Zebras to settle into the game with goalkeeper Kabelo Dambe looking nervous.┬á It was Dambe who later saved the home side with some brilliant stops to deny Pienaar, Simphiwe Tshabalala and Morgan Gould.
South Africa dictated terms with Pienaar and Oupa Manyisa bossing the midfield. When the Zebras attacked, there were signs that they could break the visitors’ defence but they were let down by their coordination.┬á In the 21st minute the nation cried for foul when Khune tripped striker Jerome Ramatlhakwana in the box but the Malian referee ignored the incident.
The Zebras survived many nerve-wrecking onslaughts from the visitors but it was only a matter of time before the locals were up in celebrations. After South Africa failed to clear the lines in the 38th minute, Zebras’ midfielder Ofentse Nato accepted the invitation when he stabbed home the equalizer. The whole stadium erupted into wild celebrations, some supporters with tears of joy in their eyes. The locals received the goal with a song and dance. Sitting on the western stands, Zebras fans sang their trademark song “re ba utlwile ba re seba maabane” and it seemed to inspire the home players more. It was 1-1 at the break and there was belief that the Zebras could snatch maximum points from the South Africans. But both sides failed to increase the score in the second half.
While coach Stanley Tshosane was happy with the result, he admitted that his charges could have done more on the day. He hinted that it was not easy for him to introduce some new faces, especially after stalwarts Modiri Marumo and Dipsy Selolwane retired from international football.
Boitumelo Mafoko and Mosimanegape Ramohibidu missed the game due to injuries while Pontsho Moloi and Mogogi Gabonamong were out due to different reasons. The six players made up the bulk of the Zebras’ squad at the African Nations Cup earlier this year. ┬á
The Zebras’ next World Cup qualifier is in March next year away to Ethiopia.