Durban - Bafana Bafana coach Gordon Igesund hailed his “brave” team for the fighting spirit they displayed as South Africa booked their place in the Africa Cup of Nations quarter-finals for the first time in over a decade in Durban on Sunday.
The hosts twice came from a goal down to hold former champions Morocco to a 2-2 draw, a result that ensured they progressed as Group A winners after a dramatic encounter in front of a capacity 50 000 crowd at Moses Mabhida Stadium.
“I think we were brave. We went out with a very attacking formation against a team that had nothing to lose,” Igesund said.
GALLERY: Bafana Bafana v Morocco
VIDEO: Bafana Bafana v Morocco
“I knew we were going to score goals and I’m proud of the fighting spirit we showed.”
Issam el Adoua put the north Africans in front after a 10th minute Itumeleng Khune error, before May Mahlangu equalised with an exquisitely curled effort into the top corner with less than 20 minutes remaining.
Substitute Abdelilah Hafidi restored Morocco's advantage in the 82nd minute, before Siyabonga Sangweni netted his second goal of the tournament, opening his body and bending in to the far corner, less than three minutes from the end.
The result, and single point, turned out to be a vital one as Cape Verde Islands beat Angola 2-1 in a simultaneous pool match and a defeat would have but have knocked the home team out of the tournament.
“Morocco are a tough team and we conceded two goals that we shouldn’t have conceded,” Igesund said.
“I was really disappointed with that and will try and rectify those things when we get back on the training field on Tuesday.
“But in saying that, I thought the team played very well against good opposition.”
The Bafana Bafana boss paid tribute to Mahlangu after another telling performance was capped by a fine solo goal.
“I thought he had a very good game. I knew it would be the type of game that would suit him.
"He’s the type of player that carries the ball forward. He runs with the ball instead of standing with it and passing, and that’s why we obviously wanted him in there - he eliminates players and creates extra space, so I thought he had a fantastic game and he scored a fantastic goal.
“But every player gave everything they had.”
Igesund reiterated his belief that the 1996 champions could go all the way to the February 10 final.
“The question is, do you believe it’s possible?” he said when asked whether he thought they could win the continental spectacle.
“I’ve said it from day one, of course I believe, I always have, even when we stood as lone rangers, we always said 'why not?'.
“We just needed to get the momentum going, as I’ve said in the past, and we need a bit of luck.
"We’re now two games away from the final and we’ll continue to believe.”
South Africa, who last reached the AFCON quarter-finals at the 2002 tournament in Mali, will face the Group B runners-up in Durban on Saturday.
Debutantes Cape Verde finished second in the group and they face the top Group B team in Port Elizabeth in the next round.
The other two teams in the Group A, Morocco and Angola, were eliminated from the competition.