By Chamu WilsonBafana Bafana’s 18-match unbeaten run came to a screeching halt with a 2-1 defeat at the hands of an inexperienced Chipolopolo in an international friendly match at Moruleng Stadium in Rustenburg on Tuesday evening.
However painful the defeat was, it might just be a necessary evil in Stuart Baxter’s charges’ quest to conquer Africa.
Coming as it did against a backdrop of the history-making victory over the Super Eagles of Nigeria, the defeat should be a good enough reminder that the battle has just started and more work needs to be done if the glory days are to return to Bafana Bafana. It can very well be viewed as a “necessary evil” to arrest complacency in Baxter’s camp.
Despite the fact that SA went into the match fielding a totally different side from the one that reduced Nigeria to an ordinary outfit on Saturday, so much was expected from the home team which had a generous sprinkling of experience and international flavour in the side. Eric Mathoho, Keagan Dolly, Tokelo Rantie and Themba Zwane had all been sidelined by injuries while the English mentor decided to rest skipper, Thulani “Tyson” Hlatshwayo and goalkeeper, Ithumeleng Khune to assess other players from his pool.
On their part, Zambia came into the match nursing a bruised ego after a 0-1 defeat to Mozambique at home in an AFCON qualifier on Saturday. New coach, former Kaizer Chiefs’ player, Wedson Nyirenda, had to deal with inexperience as he was left with no option but to select locally-based players after most of the foreign legion snubbed calls for national duty.
Bafana Bafana controlled the first half and with a bit of luck could have gone into the interval two goals up. On-fire Cape Town City player, Lebohang Manyama, broke the deadlock in the 23rd minute when he timed his late run to connect with a perfect ball from Kermit Erasmus to beat Allan Chabwe in goals for Chipolopolo.
But Zambia came back from the changing room a transformed side pressing and knocking at the Bafana Bafana who seemed comfortable with absorbing the pressure instead of taking the game to their opponents. Paul Katema was pulling the strings in the middle of the park.
It came as no surprise when Green Buffaloes striker, Brian Mwila, unleashed a ferocious shot from just outside the box that grazed the left upright to beat Ronwen Williams who had replaced Dareen Keet at halftime.
Eight minutes later, the “Copper Bullets” doubled their tally through Red Arrows striker, Lubinda Mundia, who beat an advancing Williams to snatch a rather clumsy goal.
That goal jolted South Africa back from their slumber and began pressing forward in search of an equaliser which proved elusive at the end. Percy Tau and debutant, Lorenzo Gordinho, could have written their names on the score sheet had it not been for good goalkeeping by Chabwe in the closing minutes of the game.
Baxter believes his side deserved at least a draw from the match had they not taken their foot off the pedal in the second stanza. His opposite number, Nyirenda, is convinced that in Baxter, Bafana Bafana have found a coach who is capable of taking them to the Promised Land.
“I would like to congratulate Mr Baxter for his input to the team (SA). He’s doing a good job. I think we’ve learnt a lot of lessons from this game. Our team – being a very young one – has learnt a lot of lessons and the boys have just accounted for themselves a victory,” said Nyirenda.
Both Bafana Bafana and Chipolopolo were using the friendly to sharpen their swords for the COSAFA Castle Cup Senior Challenge which will run from 25 June to 09 July at the Royal Bafokeng Sports Palace and Moruleng Stadium in the North West province.