France came back from behind three times and took the lead when it mattered most in the dying minutes of the match to beat a much-improved South African U23 side 4-3.
But perhaps South Africa will rue not having done what the French did throughout the match when they failed to pull themselves level on the final minute of the match when Luke Fleurs ballooned a clear-scoring chance over the bar when it looked easier to score.
In a seven-goal thriller, in which all the goals came in the second half of the match, the South Africans started the match much more offensive than they did in their opening match against Japan. This was mainly due to the change in the formation from 1-3-4-3 to a more attack-minded 1-4-3-3 formation, which allowed the team to play a higher line, taking the game to the French from the onset.
With Nkosinginphile Ngcobo and Thabo Cele carrying the creativity role in the centre of the midfield and Kodisang and Luther Singh out wide, the French defence seemed to struggle with the South Africans’ short-pass interplay.
The intent was clear from the South Africans who managed two shots on target in the opening 15 minutes.
The first chance of the match came on the 15th minute when Singh forced a great save out of Bernardoni from a well-taken freekick.
But it was Evidence Makgopa’s chance in the 23rd minute that must have consolidated the belief that perhaps France could actually be beaten. The predatory Baroka FC striker rattled the woodwork when he took a first-time shot from inside the box following a brilliant pass from Singh on the right.
A minute later, Amaglug-glug were back in France’s box employing their effective short-pass interplay, piercing holes in the French defence as Ngcobo and Cele were denied by Bernadoni from close range within a very short space of time.
The formation seemed well executed for much of the game as the South Africans continued to employ promising build-ups with the patient Lavalpiano build-ups.
Against the run of play, France seemed to have scored but Andre-Pierre Gignac was adjudged to have been in an offside position when the ball was played to him.
France also had a freekick on the half-hour mark, but Williams was equal to the task.
South Africa should have gone into the break leading. This when five minutes before the interval Kobamelo Kodisang had his ankle clipped inside the box when he received a pass from Singh and the referee awarded a penalty.
Singh stepped up, but struck the crossbar, letting the French off the hook going into the break.
In the second half, the French, who struggled to penetrate the South African defence for much of the first stanza, seemed to have come back with a different intent to try to shoot from a distance. Four minutes into the second half, Gignac was denied by Williams from a distance with Thauvin also testing the SuperSport United goalkeeper a minute later.
South Africa’s high-press game finally paid off when Kodisang took advantage of a confusion in defence between Bernardoni and his centre back, easily picking up on the loose ball to put South Africa in the lead.
But South Africa’s lead was short-lived when France finally managed to crack Amaglug-glug’s defence a minute later and Gignac, with a tap-in from close range, levelled matters.
This was going to be the character of the match in which South Africa would take the lead two more times and France pulling themselves back into the game.
Makgopa scored on the near post to give South Africa a 2-1 lead when Kodisang delivered a good cross from the right, forcing Notoane to hold off the double change he was about to make as his team reclaimed the lead, forcing him to rethink his tactics.
Goodman Mosele came on for Kodisang with 12 minutes to go and a minute later France drew level when Gignac unmarked headed home from inside the box.
Mokoena scored what could be one of the best goal goals of the tournament with a long-range shot following an intelligent chest pass from Makgopa. But excruciatingly again, France drew level shortly after when Williams rather unfortunate conceded a penalty.
Gignac subsequently completed his hat-trick from the spot with a powerful shot making the scoreboard 3-3 going into five minutes of additional time.
It was Teji Savanier who broke the rhythm of the order of scoring goals when he gave France the lead for the first time in the match with a shot from inside the box with South Africa defending worryingly too deep.
Mexico who beat France 4-1 in the opening match will now face host Japan who beat South Africa 1-0 on Thursday. Both teams have three points apiece a win for either will secure their position in the next round.
South Africa will play Mexico in the final match of the tournament in a match that will not be of much significance to the the South African team.
Club coaches have to make things easier for their national team counterparts – Dlangalala
Coach David Notoane and Teboho Mokoena at the post-match press conference