Cairo – An 85th minute winner from Thembinkosi Lorch at the Cairo International Stadium on Saturday night earned Bafana Bafana a famous 1-0 win over hosts Egypt and sets up a quarterfinal date with Nigeria in the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon).
After a lacklustre and somewhat dispirited showing in the group phase, not many had given the South Africans any kind of chance against a star-studded Egyptian side.
But there were also those who believed that this Bafana outfit had it within them to beat anyone on their day, and when in the mood.
And as it turned out, a much-rejuvenated Bafana side were to have the better of the first half exchanges before Lorch’s calmly-taken late goal earned what was a deserved victory.
Egypt, seven-time Afcon champions, also looked dangerous on several occasions, and it could have been a different story had Mohamed Salah not failed to find the target in the fourth minute after the ball had fallen to him just 10-yards out from goal.
For the most part though, Bafana were able to keep the Liverpool forward under wraps. And instead it was their own diminutive left-footed talisman, Percy Tau, who made the bigger impact on the game.
Tau had looked a shadow of himself in the opening three matches but was back to his menacing best from the start, and he tested Mohamed El-Shenawy with a stinging drive from long range in the 15th minute.
A few minutes later Tau called El-Shenawy into action again with a top-corner-bound free kick, which the goalkeeper did superbly to claw away from danger.
However, the hosts sounded a warning moments later when after a swift counter, Salah slipped Trezeguet in, but he shot tamely at Ronwen Williams.
Bafana, though, were growing in confidence, while Egypt made some uncharacteristic errors as they struggled to cope with the pace and positivity of the South Africans.
And there were more chances for the 1996 Afcon champions before the interval, although they just couldn’t make it count as both Kamohelo Mokotjo and Lorch sent low drives flashing just the wrong side of the upright.
The Egyptians were able to make a brighter start to the second half, and chances followed as Mohamed Elneny blazed a shot over the bar in the 46th minute before Salah brilliantly picked out Trezeguet, but his shot from close range was struck weakly and right into Williams’ arms.
Bafana, however, were up for the challenge, and after forcing their way back into the game, they could have taken the lead when Lorch’s 69th minute free kick was met with a thumping header on the run by Thulani Hlatshwayo, but the skipper’s effort flew marginally wide.
Moments later, a quick counter attack opened up another chance, but from a tight angle Lorch – finally getting his first game-time in the tournament – shot straight at El-Shenawy.
The deeper the game went without Egypt scoring, the more a feeling of anxiety crept into the packed stands in Cairo.
And as the hosts continued to be frustrated in their attacking attempts, Bafana were always in with a chance of sneaking a winner.
And that’s exactly what transpired five minutes from time when a lovely move saw Tau releasing Lebo Mothiba, who played in a perfectly-weighted pass to Lorch, who showed his composure on the biggest of international stages as he coolly slipped the ball past Shenawy.
African News Agency/ANA