Niger down Bafana in Niamey
5 September 2011
Bafana Bafana conceded their first goals in 2012 African Nations Cup qualifying, as well as their lead at the top of Group G, in going down 2-1 to Niger in Niamey on Sunday.
With one match to play, Niger tops the group on nine points, thanks to three wins at home. However, their two defeats in away matches gives Bafana hope that they will not add more points to their tally, although Niger's final away game will be against a young Egyptian team made up mostly of under-23 players.
South Africa are just one point behind Niger, but occupy second place on goal difference only over Sierra Leone. The teams meet in South Africa on 7 October.
Even if Bafana fail to finish top of their group, they should still be in the running to qualify for Gabon and Equatorial Guinea 2012 as one of the two best-placed second-place teams. However, that is clearly not the path that coach Pitso Mosimane and his charges would wish to take to the continental finals.
Poor first half performance
Sunday's match at the General Setdi Kountche Stadium was played in very hot conditions on a poor pitch. South Africa did their cause no justice by turning in an untidy first half performance, and their defence was surprisingly porous.
Bafana's efforts were not helped by some questionable refereeing decisions - so often a problem in African competition - which left the coaching staff fuming, especially after a clear-cut penalty decision late in the game was not awarded by the referee.
With Katlego Mphela failing to pass a late fitness test, coach Pitso Mosimane opted to use Bernard Parker and Thulani Serero up front, while Teko Modise made his return to the national team, starting on the right side of midfield.
Buoyed by the fanatical support of the home fans, Niger started the contest confidently and took the game to South Africa. Issoufou Alhassane came close to giving "the Mena" an early lead when he struck a free-kick just over the crossbar.
Hit the post
Bafana then had a wonderful opportunity to take the lead when Andile Jali's pass gave Modise plenty of time to line up a shot, but the midfielder's strike hit the inside of the post and Serero's effort on the rebound was knocked behind for a corner.
Itumeleng Khune needed to make a superb stop to deny Ouwa Maazou a goal after the striker had sprung South Africa's offside trap, but from the resulting corner Niger took the lead when Dankwa E Kofi was allowed an easy header to beat the South African goalkeeper.
After turning at one-nil down, Bafana upped their efforts in the second half. Maazou again came close to extending Niger's lead, but Morgan Gould robbed him with a last-gasp interception.
It didn't take long for Niger to double their lead through Maazou, however. He netted a second headed goal to raise the roar of a delighted home crowd.
As the half progressed, so Bafana began to find some measure of control. They were rewarded for that when Andile Jali pulled a goal back with a good finish past Daouda Kassali in the Niger goal.
Lifted by the goal, South Africa upped the pressure. Daylon Claasen made ground into the penalty area after turning his marker, but when he was hacked down from behind the referee, inexplicably, showed Claasen a yellow card for diving instead of pointing to the spot, much to the disgust of the Bafana coaching staff, who were incensed by the decision.
By this time Niger were trying to hold on for the win and resorted to time-wasting, which earned goalkeeper Kassali, after numerous theatrical stoppages, a yellow card. It was too little too late from Bafana, however, as they lost their unbeaten record in the qualifiers.
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