Stuart Baxter could not have gotten off to a better start than a resounding first-ever competitive victory for Bafana Bafana against Nigeria at Godswill Akpabio International Stadium in Uyo on Saturday.
Nigeria’s tormentor-in-chief Tokelo Rantie put Bafana Bafana ahead in the 56th minute, Percy Tau making it 2-0 in the 80th, in the shock result of the opening round of the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers.
It could have been more – the unfortunate Themba Zwane somehow struck the upright twice.
Baxter, on his return to coach Bafana, oversaw the end to the drought against the team South Africa could never beat.
Remarkably, he had also been in charge of SA’s one previous friendly win against Nigeria, 1-0 at Ellis Park in 2004.
Bafana are now in poll position to qualify for Cameroon 2018. Seychelles will be whipping boys in Group E, Libya perhaps a little more than that although the north Africans got off to a flying start with a 55-1 thumping of the islanders.
Baxter will dissect what he got right to achieve this frankly spectacular starting result.
Largely, this Nigeria team, as the Bafana players had played up during the week, are new-look, inexperienced, lack the monstrous physicality of previous generations, and just do not look so invincible any more.
Bafana had softened them up under Baxter’s predecessor Shakes Mashaba, and given themselves confidence against their nemesis with two draws that eliminated the Super Eagles from the 2015 Nations Cup.
And especially the 2-2 away draw, in which Rantie’s brace had given SA a once-unthinkable 2-0 lead.
The signs had been there that Bafana might end their drought. Even then, in an away match it seemed almost unthinkable, especially for a team that had four days’ training under their new coach, against a side that had a three-week camp in France that included two friendlies.
Bafana were patchy, but not appallingly so, clawing their way to a goalless break. They improved markedly killing the game off in the second half.
Bafana had been nervy in the first half, as teething problems showed.
They started particularly so, but there were glimpses of an improvement as the half wore on.
The South Africans conceded four corners in the opening 12 minutes.
Manchester City danger forward Kelechi Iheanacho’s cross was headed dangerously close to Itumeleng Khune’s upright by Alex Iwobi.
South Africa looked scared to play. And they allowed Nigeria to play. When Bafana tried things, they were caught in possession.
Nigeria were not deadly in the final third, letting SA off.
Moses Simon’s cross-cum-shot was tipped over by Khune. Then Daniel Akpeyi nearly did gift the game to the travelling team.
The Chippa United goalkeeper stretched for a cross by Tebogo Langerman, and fumbled, allowing Zwane a chance at an open goal, the winger hitting the upright.
But Bafana came out from the break looking far sharper. And nine minutes in Ramahlwe Mphahlele’s cross found Rantie sneaking into the near post to get the header deflected neatly past Akpeyi.
As the pressure grew on Nigeria – who knew a loss at home would be the worst start as they try to make up for failures to qualify in 2015 and 2017 – the Super Eagles struggled for ideas.
South Africa started to string passes together. Mostly they battled for everything.
They were also far calmer than they had been in the first half.
Then Bafana opened Nigeria for what should have been the killer goal, Rantie feeding Zwane on the right, the unfortunate forward inconceivably striking the upright again.
The final 15-minute pressure always seemed likely. Alex Iwobi scrambled an attempted finish past Khune, Dean Furman clearing off the line.
But on a counterattack Percy Tau, on for a tired Rantie moments earlier, ran onto Dolly’s pass, beat Akpeyi outside the keeper’s area, and beat a defender the finish.
– TMG Digital/TMG Sport