Bafana stutter to draw
Steven Pienaar (Gallo Images)
Rustenburg - Bafana Bafana - and embattled coach Pitso Mosimane - escaped with a 1-1 draw against Ethiopia in their opening 2014 World Cup qualifier in Phokeng, outside Rustenburg, on Sunday.
The Ethiopians nearly compounded more misery on the struggling hosts, who are now winless in seven matches, and were 13 minutes away from a stunning result in a match marred by poor local attendance.
The visitors took a half-time lead courtesy of Saladin Said, who powered a shot into the roof of the net in the 28th minute.
The troublesome player dispossessed the poor Tsepo Masilela before rattling the shock goal to the delight of their impressive fan base at the Phokeng venue.
Against the run of play, and having been outclassed, the disjointed Bafana outfit equalised late in the second half through Katlego Mphela in the 77th minute.
South Africa's next fixture is another tricky encounter away to Botswana in Gaborone on Saturday.
Ahead of next year's Africa Cup of Nations, which South Africa will host, there will be a big focus on Mosimane's job, and whether he is fit to lead the side.
Bafana failed to qualify for the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations last year, while their last victory came against Burkina Faso in a friendly in August.
Bafana were expected to win comfortably against the 138th-ranked east African nation, having planned meticulously in camp for over two weeks.
They started off well and set their intentions early as Anele Ngcongca, Siyabonga Nomvethe and Mphela were denied by Sisay Bancha Basa in the Ethiopian goal.
The Black Lions, however, were comfortable and tenacious as they withstood the early attacks.
They probed the static Bafana defence with their quick offensive play and balls over the top, spearheaded by the nippy Said.
He twice drew saves from Bafana 'keeper Itumeleng Khune before nailing the game's opener with an unstoppable shot.
Masilela, who was carrying an injury, was soon replaced by Punch Masenamela at left back, having shouldered the blame for the goal.
The east African visitors, who have not won away since beating lowly Madagascar two years ago, were at their best on the afternoon.
They earned a credible point against their more established opponents - at least on paper.
Bafana made another substitute at the interval, with Oupa Manyisa replacing Reneilwe Letsholonyane, as the team looked to enthuse creativity in midfield.
The promising Mphela and Nomvethe partnership, though, seemed to fizzle before the former ignited the home team with an opportunistic strike.
Mphela was afforded a free kick on the edge of the box in the dying moments of the game, in search of the winner, but his shot came off the Ethiopian defensive wall.
Masenamela fashioned a shot in injury time that sailed wide of goal to seal his side's fate as they settled for a single point.