In an impressive start to Stuart Baxter’s reign as coach, Bafana Bafana registered arguably the most significant result in their history with a 2-0 win away to Nigeria in an African Cup of Nations (Afcon) qualifier on Saturday evening. The victory drew comparisons to the heroics of the 1996 Afcon-winning squad and was the national team’s first ever win against the Super Eagles in a competitive fixture.
Bafana began cautiously in front of a partisan crowd at the Godswill Akpabio International Stadium, showing little ambition in attack, and their only real show of intent was when Themba Zwane struck the woodwork early on. However, Baxter, who was making his return to the Bafana hotseat, is an exacting taskmaster when it comes to effecting strategy on the pitch, and in the second stanza, the Scotsman’s plans began to take shape.
The men in green and gold started brightly, and when nuggety Turkish-based forward Tokelo Rantie nodded Bafana ahead at the near post – with Ramahlwe Mphahlele providing the assist – in the 56th minute, the game began to open up.
Nigeria looked increasingly desperate as they pushed forward in search of an equaliser, leaving large gaps for the visitors to exploit. Manchester City striker Kelechi Iheanacho and Arsenal’s Alex Iwobi both came close to levelling matters, but the Nigerians looked devoid of ideas as the half wore on.
Montpellier playmaker Keagan Dolly should have been awarded a penalty 12 minutes from time after being impeded in the area and the unlucky Zwane struck the post again after great build-up play from substitute Lebogang Manyama.
The tireless Dolly was in action again a few minutes later, providing a superb long-range pass to Sundowns midfielder Percy Tau after a Nigerian corner had gone awry. The 23-year-old jinxed past goalkeeper Daniel Akpeyi to slot home and seal a famous victory for the South Africans eight minutes from time. Bafana Bafana are now in a strong position to qualify for the continental showpiece, with fixtures against minnows Libya and the Seychelles to come.
Meanwhile, the Springboks completed a 37-14 victory over France at a half-empty Loftus Versveld in Pretoria on Saturday in the first of a three-Test series. Boasting a new-look team under the captaincy of Warren Whiteley, the Boks raced into an early 13-0 lead, with Jesse Kriel scoring the opening try. France hit back with a seven-pointer of their own and also dotted down early in the second-half to set the hosts’ nerves on edge at 16-14.
The turning point came just before the hour mark when referee Glen Jackson awarded a penalty try after Courtnall Skosan was tackled early by French fullback Brice Dulin, who received a yellow card. With a gap at the back, Ross Cronje crossed the whitewash two minutes later to complete a well-worked lineout move. Jan Serfontein completed the try-fest and deserved victory in the 67th minute after good work from Francois Hougaard and Andries Coetzee.
The second Test takes place in Durban on Saturday, with the French ranks likely to be strengthened by the inclusion of a number of senior members of the squad who are recovering from the French Top 14 final.