It was not pretty or convincing, but the result counted as the developmental Bafana Bafana team at the Cosafa Cup registered their second victory of Group A, labouring to a 1-0 win against 10-man Eswatini on Thursday.
Substitute Thabang Sibanyoni’s 60th-minute strike at a blustery Wolfson Stadium earned SA a second win, and a big step towards the knockout stages, after the fringe Bafana combination had begun with a 1-0 win against Botswana on Tuesday.
Eswatini’s star player, Felix Badenhorst, was sent off for a second bookable offence two minutes into first-half injury time.
Again, assistant coach Morena Ramoreboli took charge of SA on the bench, as Helman Mkhalele — coach for the tournament in the absence of new Bafana head coach Hugo Broos — has tested positive for Covid-19.
The South Africans were largely disjointed for large periods of the game against an Eswatini side determined to put in a defensive shift and hold their neighbours. But when it counted, Bafana found the penetration for the decisive goal.
The next game for the log leaders in the five-team Group A is against third-placed Lesotho on Tuesday.
In a subdued and sluggish first half, SA battled to find cohesion at the characteristically windswept Gqeberha venue.
Eswatini pushed hard to make life tough for the South Africans. But the possession Bafana had in long periods could not be turned into a threat in the final third.
The closest anyone came to scoring was in the dying moments of the half, from long-time Cosafa Cup star Badenhorst. After Rushine de Reuck fouled striker Sabelo Ndzinisa on the edge of the penalty area, Badenhorst’s free-kick was struck cleanly but a metre over the bar.
After all their hard work to contain and frustrate SA, Eswatini suffered a blow when a minute into injury time Badenhorst —seemingly attempting to connect with the ball — kicked the back of Sphelele Mkhulise’s leg.
Mozambican referee Wilson Muiange, having earlier booked the playmaker, reached for a second yellow card and consequent red.
SA would have wanted to apply pressure far more effectively with a man advantage after the break.
It was Eswatini, though, who forced the first save of the game moments in, as from Ndzinisa’s speculative chip right-winger Fanele Mamba beat right-back Mashweu Mphahlele to burst through the middle, captain Veli Mothwa making the stop.
From lively winger Justice Figareido’s corner moments later, midfielder Mkhontfo Khethokuhle was able to ghost in unmarked and head wide.
Again, as had been the case with their victory against Botswana, SA’s goal came against the run of play.
And in another strange similarity, this time there was a role reversal. Against the Zebras, Kagiso Malinga replaced Sibanyoni and scored soon after. On Thursday, Sibanyoni came on for Malinga and scored.
Ethan Brooks’s cross was cleared by centreback Sihlangu Mkhwanazi but only as far as Monnapule Saleng, who burst back into the area and fed Sibanyoni, who beat keeper Ncamiso Dlamini.
Eswatini missed a golden chance to equalise in the dying seconds when Mamba turned a defender and chipped across the area, substitute Phiwayinkhosi Dlamini heading wide with Mothwa stranded and an open goal beckoning.