Baby Bafana's hopes diminish

2011-11-30 22:14

Marrakech - Baby Bafana again conceded a late equaliser to draw 1-1 with plucky Gabon in their Group B African Under-23 Championship encounter here in Morocco on Wednesday.

The SA U-23 team's chances of qualifying for the semi-finals and next year's Olympic Games in London now hang by a thread and depend largely on the group's other results.

They had opened the scoring through Mandla Masango with a 40th minute header after a cross from striker Rodney Ramagalela.

Gabon replied through Diderot Lengoualama 11 minutes from time, finishing off a corner kick as the South Africans crucially lost concentration at the back.

Their second successive draw - having played to a 1-1 stalemate with Ivory Coast on Sunday - left them on two points, with a tough final group match against Egypt on Saturday.

The top three sides in the competition automatically qualify for next year's Olympics in London, with the losing semi-finalists set to enter a playoff with an Asian country.

Just as they cracked after a second-half onslaught against the Ivory Coast at the weekend, Baby Bafana allowed Gabon to claw their way back into the match, having dominated for nearly an hour.

The Gabonese had shown the same fighting spirit on Sunday, despite their 1-0 loss to Egypt, and were particularly threatening when offered space to manuevre in the final third of the field.

The South Africans started off tentatively with Gabon powering through in the early exchanges with their bulky forwards, Lionel Yacouya and Allen Nono.

Surging ahead, Baby Bafana gained control of the match and grew in confidence in the first half, with Bhengu threading through a cross that was spilled by Willy Mikiela in the Gabonese goal.

Mikiela's defence was also quick to close down midfielder Sameehg Doutie as he tried to slot in the rebound.

Bhengu, again, took an ambitious free-kick that sailed over the bar after 31 minutes, before hitting the post two minutes later from a Shongwe cross on the left edge of the box.

Soon after, though, South Africa took the lead through Masango, and on the stroke of half-time Doutie fired a shot narrowly wide as they looked to increase the lead before the break.

Baby Bafana took control again in the second period, with two chances falling for busy striker Rodney Ramagalela, who was hasty with his finishing.

The momentum shifted when coach Shakes Mashaba brought off Ramagalela and Riaan Eugene for Khumalo and Bhongolwethu Jayiya in quick succession before the hour mark as the Gabonese clawed their way back.

While Jayiya had a chance to score immediately on entry, he ballooned his shot abysmally wide of goal, and Bhengu also wasted a free kick outside the box.

In contrast, Gabon tested Brilliant Khuzwayo through midfielder Ibrahim Ndong and substitute Ewouta Ntsitsigui, who fashioned a shot on the edge of the box that was saved by the goalkeeper.

The Central Africans, who had their keeper, Mikiela, sent off in the 86th minute for a robust foul on Khumalo, earned their first point of the tournament.