Cruelest twist of fate as last-gasp goal sinks Bafana Bafana

Bafana Bafana star forward Percy Tau looks dejected as Romain Saiss celebrates after Morocco beat South Africa with a last-gasp goal in their Africa Cup of Nations Group D final group match in Cairo, Egypt, on Monday July 1 2019.
Bafana Bafana star forward Percy Tau looks dejected as Romain Saiss celebrates after Morocco beat South Africa with a last-gasp goal in their Africa Cup of Nations Group D final group match in Cairo, Egypt, on Monday July 1 2019.
Image: REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh

Such a thing is simply too cruel - so much so as to be challenging to describe.

Brave, disciplined Bafana Bafana were through to the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) last-16, a Group D draw against imposing Morocco beckoning.

But in the 90th minute a free-kick was not cleared and Mbark Boussoufa buried a winner, and South Africa were basically, though not mathematically, out.

Many South Africans will not have liked the way the team played. Coach Stuart Baxter should have some slack cut for him on this one, though.

Anyone critical of this disciplined performance - though there were plenty of imperfections - does not grasp the scale of the Afcon finals, the class of the opposition here, and the necessity, sometimes of doing what had to be done.

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And Bafana were agonisingly close to doing that.

With the three best third-placed finishers from six groups going through, mathematically Bafana are not out. They seemed almost certain to be surpassed in the third-placed table in the Monday's late, and Tuesday's remaining group games.

Morocco topped Group D with nine points. Ivory Coast, 4-1 winners against Namibia in the concurrent game, second on six points, Bafana third on three, and Namibia last on zero.

But Bafana also paid for defending too deep in the second half, when they first had indicated there might be something in attack for them.

With Baxter naming an attacking line-up, Bafana's structure they showed in a 1-0 opening defeat against Ivory Coast was also back in a solid first half.

A lack of opportunities might have been unsurprising, perhaps, for a 6pm kickoff game that started in mid-30s degrees Celsius.

The opening half, though, was increasingly played at a remarkable pace for the conditions, in which Bafana fought for every challenge, and closed spaces like terriers.

A free-kick fell to Younes Behanda, open on the left of South Africa's area, who miscued a volley over. At the other end Percy Tau shaped a drive round the left post.

Morocco had the first shot on target in the 36th, by Youssef En-Nesyri, the danger man who got on the end of the Atlas Lions' deliveries against Ivory Coast, which was held by Ronwen Williams.

Bafana came out looking for an early goal from the break, as a Thamsanqa Mkhize drive narrowly went past the post after some intense build-up by South Africa.

Increasingly, though, Bafana sat back in the face of the powerful Moroccans. Playing so much for the draw as to not keep the Atlas Lions on their toes attacks, was risky and counterproductive.

When Boussoufa blasted a drive onto the crossbar, it should have served as a wake-up call to Bafana to come out of a shell. But even when Bafana managed to escape their half, the support sat deep.

En-Nesyri rounded Williams far on the right and slipped on a shot, though the angle was awkward.

Bafana seemed to have done enough, though, for a famous qualification. Then a free-kick fell to Boussoufa, who buried from 15 metres.

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