JOHANNESBURG – The “proposed new dawn” got off to an ideal start for Bafana Bafana. The South Africans who are earmarking to turn new leaf with a youthful selection came-from-behind to beat Uganda 3-2 in an international friendly at Orlando Stadium, Soweto, on Thursday night.
Late in March, the South African Football Association fired coach Molefi Ntseki after his epic failure to guide the team to the Africa Cup of Nations finals in Cameroon next year. He was replaced by Hugo Broos who preached a new approach, which included integrating youngsters.
But that new era would start without him as he had to go back home to get his second jab of the Covid-19 vaccine, with assistants Cedomir Janevski and Helman Makhalele expected to oversee Bafana’s clash against Uganda. Bafana build-up plans this week hit a snag though.
Senior players, including Percy Tau, and assistant Janevski were ruled out of the match after testing positive for Covid-19. That meant that Mkhalele had to hold the fort alone in the dugout. The latter’s approach was quite bizarre, starting with six defenders in a friendly at home.
Mkhalele’s starting line-up, which included seven debutants, had only two Bafana experienced players: Ronwen Williams and Innocent Maela (both 29). Williams and Maela, were only the two players who were in the Afcon finals in Egypt in 2019 where Bafana finished in the quarterfinal.
After the whistle went off, the South Africans appeared to be the most confident on the ball as they dominated the better share of the possession – with Siphelele Mkhulise the liveware. But that dominance didn’t last for long as the visitors used their first real chance going forward.
Captain Emmanuel Okwi raced his way into the edge of Bafana’s box before whipping in a curling cross which sailed behind Bafana’s defence before finding Ibrahim Orit whose diving header rattled the roof of the net – the visitors in the driving seat early on.
Things nearly got worse for the home side. Defender Nkosinathi Sibisi rattled his clearance against an onrushing Okwi who collected the rebound, raced his way to the box before hitting his pin-point shot wide off the goal-post of Bafana goalkeeper and captain Williams.
The first half may have belonged to the visitors, but the introduction of PSL Footballer of the Season losing finalist Thabiso Kutumela and Young Player of the Season Evidence Mokgopa during halftime gave the South Africans a breath of fresh air – as they turned the game on its tide.
The duo troubled Uganda’s defence early in the second half, before combining to find the equaliser. On the edge of the box, Kutumela teed up an onrushing Mokgopa who sided his effort past Isima Watenga. From thereon, the South Africans grew in confidence going forward.
As a result, Maritzburg United striker Bongokuhle Hlongwane completed the turnaround for Bafana, guiding a curler effort, which hit the underside of the upright, into the bottom corner. Mokgopa had a dream international debut, scoring his brace after a close-range effort.
The Ugandans, though, were not going down without a fight as Abdul Lumala cut down the deficit after beating Williams from close-range. Bafana hung on for a win. Although, it was not a convincing outing for the youthful team, the win will give them confidence going forward.