Kagiso Malinga in action during the Cosafa Cup 2021 match between South Africa and Botswana at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Gqeberha, July 6 2021. Picture: MICHAEL SHEEHAN/GALLO IMAGES
Kagiso Malinga in action during the Cosafa Cup 2021 match between South Africa and Botswana at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Gqeberha, July 6 2021. Picture: MICHAEL SHEEHAN/GALLO IMAGES

SA got off to a winning start in Group A of the Cosafa Cup at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium on Tuesday‚ with substitute Kagiso Malinga’s 67th-minute strike separating the teams in a closely fought contest.

It was far from a full-strength Bafana team that took to the field in their opening match in Gqeberha.

Captain and goalkeeper Veli Mothwa‚ Rushine de Reuck in defence‚ Ethan Brooks and Siyethemba Sithebe in midfield and Sphelele Mkhulise in attack were players in the starting XI who might put their hands up for senior team selection in the near future.

The SA camp had also been hit by Covid-19 cases and precautionary isolations.

On Monday Helman  Mkhalele — head coach in the absence of new Bafana coach Hugo Broos — and goalkeeper coach Lucky Shiburi tested positive in rapid tests for Covid-19. There was no update from the Bafana camp by kickoff on whether the pair’s polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests had confirmed they had the coronavirus.

SA’s assistant coach‚ the U-20 team assistant Morena Ramoreboli‚ directed matters on the bench.

Shiburi and Mkhalele’s positive results added to two players and another technical staff member‚ who had not been named and were in isolation at the weekend.

SA rode their luck in an unconvincing opening hour‚ with Botswana even hitting the woodwork.

The introduction of Swallows FC striker Malinga‚ who grabbed an opportunistic goal against the run of play‚ earned a strike that took the wind out of Botswana’s sails‚ as the South Africans closed out the final quarter relatively convincingly.

SA could not get a grip on proceedings in the opening half.

Mamelodi Sundowns’ Mkhulise at playmaker and new Orlando Pirates signing Monnapule Saleng were lively for SA in the opening exchanges.

The Zebras came increasingly into the game. In the 35th minute they might have scored when a corner was headed powerfully goalwards by big centreback Mosha Gaolaolwe‚ TS Galaxy winger Masilake Phohlongo heading off the line. Lively winger Thero Setsile struck the rebound inches over the bar.

Bafana‚ needing purpose and cohesion in attack‚ brought on Malinga for Galaxy’s Thabang Sibanyoni up front early in the second half.

SA’s goal came against the run of play. De Reuck punted a free-kick from deep into the Zebras’ area‚ where Malinga latched onto it and struck a low volley from near the goal line that caught Ezekiel Morake napping, with the Botswana keeper unable to get down to the save.

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