Cape Town - Bafana Bafana coach Gordon Igesund believes the team is in prime position to qualify for the knockout stages of the African Nations Championship, following a 3-1 victory over Mozambique on the opening day of the continental competition in Cape Town on Saturday.
GALLERY: Bafana vs Mozambique
Bernard Parker netted twice, while Hlompho Kekana added a third, as Bafana Bafana came back from a goal down to defeat their southern African neighbours in front of 26,000 supporters at the Cape Town Stadium in Green Point.
South Africa, now hosting its fourth successive major tournament, having already hosted the 2009 Confederations Cup, the 2010 Fifa World Cup and the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations, failed to win their opening games in all three of those previous events.
Parker’s brace, however, changed all that and steered Bafana to a morale-boosting win, leaving Igesund optimistic about his team’s chances at progression.
“When we played in the Africa Cup of Nations we drew our first game. It was difficult from there onwards, it put a lot of pressure,” Igesund said of last year’s competition.
“Today’s victory gives the players a lot of confidence, it makes the supporters get behind us and fill the stadium up when we play, they start believing again.
“History will tell you and the statistics will tell you, that any team that wins the first game of any tournament, has a 70 percent chance of qualifying. But we know it's only 70 percent and not 100 percent. We still have work to do, we still have to play against Mali and, of course, we still have to play against Nigeria.”
The home side went behind early, as Mozambique's Diogo Alberto silenced the Cape Town Stadium with a soft strike which goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune failed to keep out.
But shortly before the interval, Parker sent the teams level from the penalty spot, before Kekana scored a long-range stinger, to help South Africa toward all three points.
Parker sealed his brace seven minutes from the end, as the Mambas were brushed aside, sending South Africa top of the pile in group A.
“We were good for the goals, I thought we scored fantastic goals today, especially Kekana’s goal from 35 yards,” Igesund said of the scoreline.
“Those are the kind of goals you dream about. When he struck the ball, I thought to myself, ‘he’s a little bit far, maybe he’s taken the wrong choice here.
“But when he hit it and it was going, you could see it had goal written all over it.”
Igesund handed a debut start to late call-up Thato Mokeke, who replaced the injured Tsepo Masilela ahead of the start of the event, while youngsters Lindokuhle Mbatha and Asavela Mbekile came on from the bench, a statistic that pleased the national coach.
“The one thing that really excited me today, was the fact that out on the field, I think I had five players who made their debuts,” he said.
“(Lindokuhle) Mbatha came in on the right, I had Thato Mokeke in at left-back, I had (Buhle) Mkhwanazi playing at centre-back, I brought (Asavela) Mbekile on.
“These are very young players and sometimes they can get a little nervous out there, but I was pleased that we were able to bring them on. We believe in these younger players; slowly but surely you have to do it, like we’re doing it right now… I was very pleased for them.”
Questioned about whether he was concerned at the shortage of goals even though the team created an envious amount of opportunities, Igesund dismissed fears that his team would be punished more harshly against the likes of Nigeria and Mali later in the tournament.
“If you’re creating chances, you have to be happy with that. I’m happy to create 20 chances and score three goals in a game.
“Sometimes you watch a team play and they don’t score a goal and they haven’t even created any opportunities. We always looked like we were going to score a goal after they (Mozambique) scored. I was very confident.
“I think it’s very exciting that we’re creating so many chances. Previously, we had a major problem with scoring goals and we haven’t got that problem any more.”
Meanwhile, skipper Itumeleng Khune praised Bafana’s character after Mozambique scored the early goal, which took a nasty deflection off of a South African defender, and wrong-footed the Kaizer Chiefs shot-stopper.
“It’s really disappointing to have conceded a goal of that nature. The pitch was wet, the ball took a deflection and I slipped, but the players showed great leadership,” Khune said.
“As soon as I conceded the goal, they told me to keep my head up and continue with the game, because it happened during the early stages of the game.
“So I wasn’t going to drop my head and get affected for the entire 90 minutes.
"I had to show great leadership as the captain of the team, to push the guys to go all the way and get the equaliser.
“We showed character, we came back from 1-0 (down), to win 3-1 and it was a really good result for us a team.”