14 November 2011
A stunning free kick by Katlego Mphela saw Bafana Bafana come from behind to earn a 1-all draw with Africa’s top ranked team, Cote D’Ivoire, in the annual Nelson Mandela Challenge in Port Elizabeth on Saturday.
The result means South Africa remains undefeated in five matches against the Ivorians, with one win and four draws.
Pitso Mosimane’s men had fallen behind on an own goal by Siboniso Gaxa, but Mphela’s second-half free kick left goalkeeper Boubacar Barry rooted to the spot.
It was the best possible reply the Mamelodi Sundowns’ striker could muster towards a section of the crowd that had booed him throughout the first half.
‘Mphela is the best we have’
Coach Mosimane was less than impressed by the boo boys and offered his backing for the striker at the post-match press conference, saying: “If there is anyone better than Mphela, I want that name. All the coaches and journalists must give me that name. We need that name. It’s a fact, Mphela is the best we have.”
Immediately after the game, in an on-field interview, he had expressed his disappointment in the number of opportunities his charges had spurned.
Overall, Mosimane was positive about his side’s performance. “We did well and showed that we can play well against the best, but we are not there yet, not convincing enough,” he said.
“At the end, it was a credible performance and I think we redeemed ourselves to give the country what it deserves.”
The Ivorians’ coach, Francois Zahoui, said that he too was on the whole satisfied with his team’s showing, although he admitted they have plenty to work on before the African Cup of Nations finals, which kick off on 21 January 2012.
Playing in new jerseys, South Africa started the game off fairly well, but Gervinho was giving Tsepo Masilela a tough time, and matters became worse when Masilela suffered an injury which forced him from the field after 26 minutes.
He was replaced by Siboniso Gaxa, which meant replacing a natural left-footer with a right-footed player on the left. Interestingly, in the first half, Siphiwe Tshabalala, a left-footer, was used wide on the right. It didn’t work, but when he returned to the left in the second stanza, he shone.
The Ivorians’ fired the first shot of the contest when winger Seydou Doumbia forced an early save out of Bafana net-minder Moeneeb Josephs.
Mphela had a good chance to put Bafana in front a quarter-of-an-hour into the game after Reneilwe Letsholonyane played him in with a neat ball, but Mphela’s weak left-footed effort was easily dealt with by the goalkeeper.
The visitors then appeared to have a clear-cut penalty disallowed after Gervinho was brought down in the box. The Ivorians were angered by the non-call, so much so that captain Didier Zokora earned himself a caution because of his protesting.
With 30 minutes played, Barry pulled off a good save of a Morgan Gould header, which came from a Tshabalala free kick.
Six minutes later the deadlock was broken when Gaxa headed into his own net after some miscommunication in defence, which gave the Ivory Coast a 1-0 advantage.
Goalie Josephs was called on to make a save with his feet from Doumbia with five minutes remaining, but the final chance of the half went the way of South Africa when Kagisho Dikgacoi set up Mphela, but he again failed to find a meaningful finish.
Seven minutes into the second stanza, Bafana levelled matters when Mphela took responsibility for a free kick on the left hand side of the field and with stunning precision found the bottom right hand corner of Barry’s net with his shot.
Buoyed by the goal, Bafana upped the pressure on Cote D’Ivoire and Barry needed some sharp reflexes to prevent Siaka Tiene netting an own goal.
On the hour-mark, the Elephants almost took the lead again, but Josephs did well to keep out efforts by Doumbia and Gradel Max.
The level of play dropped a little as the game drew towards its conclusion, but with the end nearing Anele Ngcongca found Mphela with a cross from the right. The striker’s header was stopped by Barry, and Ngconga’s effort to slot the rebound was snuffed out.
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