Bafana Bafana’s slim hopes of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup in Russia were ended with a 2-0 defeat to Senegal at the Peter Mokaba Stadium on Friday night.
Needing to beat Senegal in Polokwane and again next Tuesday in Dakar, it was always going to take a small miracle or at least a large slice of fortune for South Africa to book their spot at the finals in 2018.
Instead, luck went against Stuart Baxter’s men on the night and despite the bitter disappointment, it should be noted that the hosts put in a valiant performance which deserved more reward.
Having outplayed and at times even out-muscled their star-studded opposition in the first half, South Africa could certainly count themselves unfortunate to go into the break two goals down.
After a cagey opening 10 minutes from both teams, the Teranga Lions took the lead with their first attack on goal after Sadio Mane’s defence-splitting pass left West Ham forward Diafra Sakho with the relatively simple task of side-footing past Itumeleng Khune in the 12th minute.
To their credit the hosts did not allow the setback to get them down and with the industrious Dean Furman keeping things ticking over from the middle of the park, they soon took control of the game, dishing up some speedy and incisive interplay while also showing good appetite to win the ball back.
But when chances arrived, they were not converted.
The first opportunity for an equaliser popped up in the 25th minute, when after an exhilarating counter attack, Themba Zwane’s firmly struck shot was parried by Khadim N’Diaye, the ball hitting Percy Tau on the knee before bouncing up kindly for the Senegal keeper to grab at the second attempt.
At times South Africa were ripping the west African defence to shreds with their pace and skill and another outstanding move four minutes later ended with Lebogang Manyama thumping a shot into the woodwork.
Instead, with what was virtually only their second threat on goal, Senegal doubled their advantage seven minutes before the interval.
After a counter-attack, Mane had his shot saved by Khune, only for the ball to rebound off the head of a falling Thamsanqa Mkhize and into the net for the cruellest of own goals.
Even without finding their top gear after the restart, Bafana continued to enjoy the upper-hand.
But again there was no end product as several promising crosses just failed to meet the right targets in the box, while Sibusiso Vilakazi fired straight at N’Diaye from close range and Zwane struck a first-time effort over the bar just after the hour mark.
And with Liverpool star Mane keeping the Bafana defence on their toes with a couple of surging late runs, the Lions of Teranga were able to take the sting out of the South African attack, successfully winding down the clock as coach Aliou Cisse saw his men book their spot at the World Cup.