Bafana Bafana players huddle during a training session. File photo: GALLO IMAGES
Bafana Bafana players huddle during a training session. File photo: GALLO IMAGES

Cairo — Bafana Bafana were structured and held their own but they were just too timid, losing 1-0 to the awesome player power of Ivory Coast in their opening 2019 Africa Cup of Nations Group D fixture at Cairo’s Al Salam Stadium on Monday.

Aston Villa’s beast of a centre-forward, Jonathan Kodjia, produced a nimble finish for a big man for the  Ivorians’ 65th-minute winner.

Bafana have two games to go. They can possibly reach the last 16 as one of the four best third-placed finishers if they can put away Group D underdogs Namibia at this venue on Friday night. But to be sure they might need a draw against Morocco in SA’s third match at Al Salam Stadium on Monday.

Bafana appeared to conserve energy as they were largely bossed by Ivory Coast in the first half‚ and happy to go into halftime at 0-0. If that was the case‚ SA needed to come out more forceful in the second half. Bafana were solid‚ but not spectacular.

They could not rattle Ivory Coast‚ as coach Stuart Baxter had hoped they would. Perhaps‚ too‚ it was all a bit overcautious in the face of the Elephants’ physical presence and superior player class.

Baxter surprised by replacing goalkeeper Darren Keet — who had a stunning display in SA’s clinching final Nations Cup qualifier against Libya in March — with SuperSport United’s Ronwen Williams.

Otherwise it was a mostly expected starting XI.

Lebohang Maboe‚ who pushed hard to be included by impressing in the three-week preparation camp‚ was a welcome addition in right midfield.

Ivory Coast coach Ibrahim Kamara had veteran forward Wilfried Bony and Crystal Palace winger Wilfried Zaha‚ the Manchester United target‚ on the bench.

Both teams managed to play at a better tempo and rhythm than Sunday’s Group D opener, where Morocco sluggishly beat Namibia 1-0.

Algerian referee Mustapha Ghorbal allowing water breaks in a game that kicked off in 37°C temperatures played a role in that.

Lille star Nicolas Pepe gave an early glimpse of his ability, beating Sifiso Hlanti and Kamohelo Mokotjo down the right and feeding Kodjia‚ who could not connect. Bafana then had a real chance.

A team coached by Baxter will be strong on set pieces.

Themba Zwane’s corner fell to leftback Hlanti‚ who chipped back in and Thulani Hlatshwayo headed a hair wide.

When Ivory Coast won a free-kick on the right‚ and Pepe stood over it‚ it seemed a dangerous situation. The winger curled his delivery onto the crossbar.

In the 32nd minute  Kodjia broke down the middle‚ blasted‚ and Williams pulled off a stunning stop.

The second half began nigglier‚ which suited Bafana as underdogs.

Ivory Coast‚ though‚ bristled with a class that always appeared capable of producing a goal. Winger Max Gradel was played down the left and artistically curled a pass round Thamsanqa Mkhize into the path of Kodjia‚ free of the centrebacks again‚ who this time deftly slipped his finish low past Williams.