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Phiri blasts Bafana to win

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His talent and quality are undoubted, but the players who get the nod ahead of him have more international experience

GREAT STRIKE: Lebogang Phiri (middle) celebrates his goal with teammate Thulani Hlatshwayo (left) of South Africa during the 2021 Afcon Qualifiers match against Sudan at Orlando Stadium yesterday. Picture: Muzi Ntombela BackpagePix

2021 Afcon qualifiers

Orlando Stadium

South Africa (1)1

Phiri 45

Sudan0

LEBOGANG Phiri made the most of the absence of Keagan Dolly and Themba Zwane, inspiring Bafana Bafana to their first win in the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) qualifiers by showing his worth.

The France-based midfielder has been unfortunate to earn only a handful of caps and to miss out on the recent Afcon in Egypt.

His talent and quality are undoubted, but the players who get the nod ahead of him have more international experience.

Yesterday he showed that he isn’t a bad shout, skilfully bamboozling his way past Sudan’s defence to help Bafana kick-start their Afcon campaign.

Bafana Bafana coach Molefi Ntseki started with an attack-minded line-up as the side looked to bounce back from their loss to Ghana in Cape Coast on Thursday. The South Africans needed to pick up their first victory in these qualifiers.

Lebo Mothiba led the attack, supported by Percy Tau, Thulani Serero and Phiri. Ntseki’s men should have gotten an early lead after clever play from Phiri to set up Kamohelo Mokotjo. The England-based midfielder fluffed the opportunity and the ball fell favourably for Thapelo Morena who missed a sitter.

Mothiba missed an even more glorious chance as Bafana failed to make the most of their early dominance.

The hosts were all over Sudan, who parked the bus and were seemingly looking to catch South Africa on the counter. Bafana were patient in their build-up, looking to penetrate Sudan with their slick interplay but the bus refused to budge.

Thunderbolt

However, Phiri managed to move the bus with a thunderbolt that hit the roof of the net, and a huge sigh of relief enveloped this stadium as Bafana went into the break a goal ahead.

That relief was fuelled by the fact that the hosts had been so wasteful in front of goal up to that point. At half-time there should have been daylight between Bafana and the visitors who started the qualifiers with a 4-0 thumping of Sao Tome and Principe.

If all three teams – Ghana, Sudan and Bafana – are to get maximum points from the islanders, then the clashes between South Africa and Sudan could decide who becomes the second team to book a ticket to Cameroon from Group C.

The Black Stars, who are four-time African champions, are favourites to top the group. This made it essential for Bafana to not only beat Sudan but do so with a healthy goal-difference.

Yesterday was an opportunity to improve the team’s goal-difference by putting an avalanche of goals past the visitors, but Bafana were not ruthless enough to put their opponents to the sword.

This is something that the team will need to improve on if they are to go to Cameroon in 2021 and Qatar for the World Cup in 2022.

The Afcon qualifiers will only resume in August next year, but before then, in March, Bafana will start their journey towards Qatar in the World Cup qualifiers.

Ntseki would have settled into his role as Bafana head coach by then and he would have had plenty of time to prepare for that double-assault, unlike now when the team had to hustle as they prepared for these back-to-back qualifiers that included a long return trip to and from Ghana’s Cape Coast.