Bafana Bafana coach Ephraim Shakes Mashaba praised his players for a good display of football that saw them hold their nemesis Nigeria to a 1-1 draw.
The match took place at the Mbombela Stadium in Nelspruit on Sunday, 29 March.
Both sides wore black armbands and observed a moment of silence before kick-off in memory of former legend Steve Kalamazoo Mokone who passed was away on March 20 in the United States.
The hosts went a goal down following an Ahmed Musa strike but Bongani Zungu scored late in the second half with two minutes of added time left on the clock.
“For us to score at that time shows a lot of character, a willingness to push for more. It showed a lot of courage from our boys because previously we would be scored and they would drop their heads. But today there was real fighting spirit, they wanted it more. If you saw during the AFCON we scored first, then concede and it all went downhill from there, but today they missed a penalty, they dropped their heads a bit, Nigeria scored and our players picked themselves up again in search of an equaliser, which eventually came during the referee’s optional time,” said Mashaba.
This is the third time in a row that the two nations have failed to find a winner – the first two occasions was during the home and away leg of the 2015 AFCON qualifiers last year where it ended 0-0 and 2-2 in Cape Town and Uyo, Nigeria respectively.
They have now met 12 times, and South Africa has only won just once – back in 2004.
Mashaba made seven changes to side that beat Swaziland mid-week (Wednesday, 25 March) and it brought dividends as they kept Nigeria at bay only for home side to falter in front of goals.
“I would like to say well done to our boys for their performance, it is just unfortunate we didn’t win, but we should have walked this game, there were there for the taking. Our plan was to build from the back because I felt they will come and play negatively. They were happy with a draw, you could see they were parked at the back not venturing forward,” said Mashaba.
“We passed the ball around at the back and made many passes and they did not come out to get it, they were clearly comfortable with a draw. When we took the game to them we came out strong – the only thing that we need to address is scoring and finishing, and that is where you need players with mental strength, be prepared to take risks.”
Bafana Bafana could have taken the lead had midfielder Andile Jali not missed a penalty in the second half, and Mashaba believes that slightly took the wind out of the sails.
“We dominated the first half, and the second half we were still in control until we got the penalty and missed it. I think that’s when things changed and they started coming at us. The boys did very well for the three quarters of the match – they created chances but did not finish them off. Unfortunately it will be difficult to change things now because in the national team you have players for five days, but even then you still have some arriving late which means our tactical work suffers. We had four set-pieces near their goal, but none of them posed any danger to them – it says a lot,” added Mashaba.
“As for their goal, I told my players there is this No 7 Musa, don’t give him space or a chance to face our goals, or he will punish us. We dealt with him well in the first half he was nowhere, and even at the start of the second half. He is a very good curler of the ball, and you could see when it left his boot that it was going to give the goalkeeper problems, but all in all we did very well.”
The Bafana Bafana mentor says it is now becoming a concern that his charges miss penalties at crucial times. Jali’s miss reminded many of the penalty miss by striker Tokelo Rantie in the opening match of the 2015 AFCON tournament with Bafana Bafana leading 1-0 only to go down 3-1.
“It is going to be difficult for me to say to this or the other player take the penalty, it is about the player’s confidence. Just like at the AFCON the player went to pick up the ball on his own to take the spot kick and how do you stop him and say give it to so and so. But we have plan to rectify that, we will have a group of players to work on penalties because if you get the whole team to do that when a penalty is given everyone looks the other way,” said Mashaba.
He added that he was impressed with the way striker Lehlohonolo Majoro shook off the disappointment of the Swaziland clash.
“If you look at the kind of goals he scores for his team, classy goals, he finishes very well. When we brought him on today we saw that our two strikers didn’t have even one shot at goal. He made good runs, peeled off nicely from the defenders and also pulled them away from their positions. But I think at that time fatigue was starting to tell on our players and they couldn’t be sharper in supporting him,” said Mashaba.