South Africa recorded a convincing 4-1 victory over Botswana in a 2014 Fifa World Cup qualifier at the Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban on Saturday. Unfortunately for Bafana Bafana, Ethiopia beat the Central African Republic 2-1 in Brazzaville to finish top of the qualifying group.
Heading into Saturday's matches, both South Africa and Ethiopia needed to win. The Walia Antelopes had more points than Bafana Bafana, but South Africa had a far better goal difference.
Roared on by a colourful crowd on a hot day in Durban, coach Gordon Igesund's men delivered an urgent performance that was well rewarded, but ultimately not enough.
'I'm very pleased'
Interviewed after the match, before he had learned the outcome of the other game, Igesund said: "I'm very pleased. We worked on a lot of things and I always said goals were going to come when we start playing the way I know we can play.
"What I'm thrilled about today is we put in [Bongani] Zungu, we put in a couple other guys in there, and the pool is big and the team has played well, and the competition for places [is strong].
"I have got to say congratulations our team. I think they were outstanding in the first half and we did what we had to do in the second half.
"Well done to Botswana, but I think today we were just that much better than them."
Eager to attack
From the start, South Africa were industrious and eager to attack, looking to take on the Zebras down the flanks, and putting heavy pressure on the visitors when they lost possession to them. Nerves, desire and desperation were all evident, though, in some messy contesting for the ball in the midfield.
In the 7th minute, Kagisho Dikgacoi burst through on goal, drawing a fine save out of goalkeeper Kabelo Dambe with a shot from outside the box. The Crystal Palace man then pounced on the rebound, but the goalie was once again up to the challenge and batted Dikgacoi's follow-up effort away, diving low to his left to deny the Bafana Bafana midfielder.
Ten minutes later, Siphiwe Tshabalala fired just over the crossbar with a curling, left-footed free kick from a dangerous position, just outside the box on the right.
Bernard Parker let fly with a shot from distance, but his effort was well wide. Shortly after that, Bafana Bafana opened up Botswana down the left flank. Thabo Matlaba sent in a dangerous cross, which was just outside the reach of Kermit Erasmus, but drew a flying fist-away from the goalkeeper. Striker and goalie collided and the referee immediately blew his whistle, allowing medical staff to come on and treat the injured players.
South Africa took the lead In the 28th minute after Siphiwe Tshabalala worked hard to block a clearance and forced the Zebras to concede a corner. The dreadlocked midfielder then sent in a curling kick, which was flicked on by his Kaizer Chiefs' team-mate Bernard Parker and met by a header from Kermit Erasmus at the far post, which gave the home team the lead, much to the delight of the boisterous crowd.
It was almost 2-0 in the 32nd minute after Bafana Bafana again caught Botswana out on the counter-attack. Tokelo Rantie set up Parker with a square ball and the man in the number 17 shirt shot towards Dambe's top left hand corner, but the goalie, at full stretch, pulled off a fine save to deny him.
At about the same time, the news came in that the Central African Republic had taken a 1-0 lead over Ethiopia in Brazzaville. If the scores remained that way, South Africa would advance to the final round of 2014 Fifa World Cup qualifying. Almost an hour of play lay ahead, however.
The Zebras' first decent foray came in the 38th minute and it drew a near-post save out of Itumleng Khune. South Africa cleared from the resulting corner.
Just before the break, Dean Furman, who would go on to win the man of the match award, had a chance to score his first goal for South Africa from close range, but his attempted back heel went wrong and Botswana breathed a sigh of relief.
In the 46th minute, though, Furman netted a popular first goal for the Rainbow Nation, firing across the goalkeeper and into the goal off of the right hand post to give Bafana Bafana some breathing room at half-time. He started the move by intercepting a pass and Bernard Parker set him up with a wonderful ball that split the Zebras' defence.
As the second half started, South Africa looked assured, knocking the ball around confidently. The only concern might have been that they would try to sit on their lead, but a few probing passes suggested that would not be the case.
Khune needed to make a save six minutes into the stanza, but the shot was from distance and lacked venom.
Botswana then lost their skipper Mompati Thuma in his last international in the 57th minute after two nasty falls. Down by two goals, it was clearly not going to be their afternoon.
Ethiopia, though, had drawn level with the Central African Republic. They still needed to find a winner with 30 minutes to play, but they had, at least, matched South Africa's 11 points in the group. They trailed Bafana Bafana by five goals on goal difference, however.
Then, with 25 minutes to go, the news came through that the Walia Antelopes led 2-1 away from home. If they won, it wouldn't matter what the result was in Durban.
Rantie went down under the goalkeeper's challenge in the 68th minute, but the referee turned down Bafana's pleas for a spot kick. Time was slipping away in South Africa's challenge for a place in the last round of World Cup qualifying.
Five minutes later, Botswana stunned Bafana Bafana with a goal on the counter- attack. After sweeping up the left flank, a pinpoint cross came in for Jerome Ramatlhakwana, who met it with his head at pace and powered it past a helpless Khune in the South African goal.
The home team came close to replying almost immediately, but Rantie scuffed his left-footed shot well wide of the Zebras' goal.
On the sidelines, Bafana Bafana coach Gordon Igesund had become animated as he allowed his concern to show.
With six minutes left, though, Bernard Parker provided Igesund with a reason to smile. After Rantie was brought down on the edge of the box, Parker beat Dambe to his right with a beautiful shot that dipped over the wall and curled away from the goalkeeper.
South Africa's lead had once more been extended to two goals. Still, Ethiopia held onto the lead in Brazzaville.
Just two minutes were left when Dane Klaite, on for Tshabalala, nipped inside a covering defender in the Botswana box. The challenge was ragged and Klate went down. The referee pointed to the spot and Parker stepped up to take the kick. He sent Dambe the wrong way and Bafana Bafana led 4-1 as the match drew towards its conclusion.
When the final whistle sounded, South Africa had scored a comfortable victory, but the game between the Central African Republic and Ethiopia was not yet over, and so an agonising wait ensued as Bafana Bafana fans hoped for a late goal and a draw in Brazzaville.
That goal never came…