Durban — South Africa kept alive home hopes at the African Nations Cup finals by twice coming from behind to draw with Morocco and sneak first place in Group A after a 2-2 draw in Durban.
It means that Morocco go out of the tournament, since Cape Verde’s 2-1 win over Angola gave them second place in the group behind Bafana Bafana.
There was a huge sigh of collective relief from the host nation when Siyabonga Sangweni swept home the ball with only four minutes left. Had South Africa not hauled back the score for a second successive time in the game they would have gone out of the tournament.
A grandstand finish came at the end of a tremendous tussle between two creative teams. South African goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune made vital saves while the home side dominated with their passing game and created more chances than in many of their recent matches. Morocco managed to set up several opportunities inside the first quarter-hour though, including the first goal.
Khune had to smother the first effort from Youssef Kaddioui, but he was culpable for the 10th minute goal from Issam El Aduoa, which came from a corner by Abdelaziz Barrada. The promising midfielder bent the ball onto Khune, who tried a feeble punch but was beaten by El Aduoa to the ball, while Bafana skipper Bongani Khumalo made little effort to try and get his head on it.
This was followed by a similar chance at a corner soon after for Chahir Belghazouani, whose shot, after Bafana failed to clear, was scooped around the post by Khune.
Khune made an even more vital stop just before halftime when Kamel Chafni broke free, and then another in a one-on-one situation, getting a hand to a chip from Youssef Al Arabi to stymie a clear chance for Morocco on the hour mark.
South Africa had a timid first half in which they managed only a single shot on goal. But they grew stronger as the game continued and played with more enterprise after the break, with two free kicks from Thuso Phala testing Morocco goalkeeper Nadir Lamyaghri.
It took until the 71st minute for May Mahlangu to lift the 50,000-strong crowd at the Moses Mabhida Stadium with a curling equaliser from the edge of the area. He played a clever set of passes with Tokelo Rantie before expertly placing his shot.
At 1-1, Morocco were heading out of the tournament and had to switch tactics and go back on the attack, throwing players forward. They were rewarded with eight minutes to go when Abdelilah Hafid swept in a pull-back from full back Zakarya Bergdich.
But they could not hold onto their tenuous lead as the pendulum swung back to South Africa, with Sangweni finding himself clear to expertly curl the ball between two defenders in the 86th minute.
The hosts stay in Durban for their quarter-final to play the runner-up in group B, to be determined on Monday.