South Africa will again have to take the hard qualification route after a 1-1 draw against a second-string Ghana in their 2021 African Cup of Nations qualifier at the FNB Stadium on Thursday evening.
A profligate and at times inexplicably lethargic SA conceded first in the 49th minute when Mohammed Kudus found a way through Ronwen Williams, but the hosts responded three minutes later through Percy Tau.
The draw, which was as good as win for the Black Stars, secured a second-string Ghana side a place in the continental showpiece with 10 points in the pocket and Sao Tome and Principe left in their sights.
South Africa, who have a better head-to-head record against the Sudan side they’ll be facing on Sunday in Omdurman, must avoid defeat to join Ghana as the Group C qualifiers.
SA are also on 10 points, but not quite out of the woods and will be disappointed to have drawn a game that in essence, they should have won with some ease.
That South Africa didn’t score in the first half was one of the mysteries of football that is only unique to them.
That they played well despite losing an in-form Andile Jali to a groin injury in the 21st minute was something excellent.
In the second half, Jali’s experience was missed as the visitors took control of the midfield battle and swarmed the game, but outmatched Ben Motshwari.
That said, South Africa razzled and dazzled in the first half, but fizzled in front of goal when it really counted.
Thapelo Morena, who did everything that was asked of him on the right hand flank, but couldn’t finish the fifth and 31st minute chance that came his way.
Both chances originated from the left-hand flank where S’Fiso Hlanti and Innocent Maela consistently had the better of Benson Anang.
The opportunities that came Morena’s way both hit the side-netting instead of beating Razak Abalora.
Abalora had a close moment when a Tau header went wide in the 19th minute, but a minute later, he earned his salary when a Hlanti shot forced him to pull off an excellent save.
Ghana, who were content with defending deep and trying to catch the hosts on the counter, only had one clear-cut chance when Mubarak Wakaso’s freekick didn’t trouble Williams.
The Black Stars looked threatening when they went forward, with Siyanda Xulu looking especially jittery.
It was through his mistake in the 49th minute that Kudus scored from, with the defender unnecessarily hesitant with a ball that came towards him. Kudus snatched the ball and neatly side-footed past Williams.
The hosts responded with some venom and equalised three minutes later through Tau, who looked like he may not make the second half because of an ankle issue.
The assist from an underused Ruzaigh Gamildien was quality, but the finish from Tau’s weaker and impinged right foot was of the highest standard.
The visitors quickly took control of the game and pressed South Africa hard, but the only chance they had was through Afriyie Acquah’s 78th minute chance that went wide of Williams’ net.
South Africa were also asking questions and Themba Zwane, who had a poor game, fluffed two chances in the 74th and 80th minutes.
In the first chance, he was too slow to react to a ball that came his way and when Maela’s 80th minute shot wasn’t gathered by Abalora, he was slow to react to the rebound.
SA didn’t get any better chances and now have quite the tricky encounter to negotiate in Sudan on Sunday.