South Africa Heldon as it’s Swan-Sang time for Morocco

by Sam Crocker and Alex Queiros SOUTH AFRICA 2-2 MOROCCO In what was an absolutely extraordinary final quarter of an hour in Group A, the hosts emerged as group winners in the end, with Morocco once again disappointing everyone with their early exit. It was Morocco who started the brighter out of the two teams in the first half, as their technical superiority clearly evident with their flowing attacking moves, El Arabi acting as a central fulcrum to most of their moves. Seemingly brimming with creativity, and with South Africa conceding a number of set-pieces early on, it was almost inevitable that Morocco would take the lead as they did. A delicious corner was swung in by Abdelaziz Barrada, swinging inwards at the last minute as it got into the penalty area, headed right towards the cluster of players that populated South Africa’s six-yard box. El Adoua, not believing his luck at having a free header right in front of goal, rose to head the ball down and watch it eventually roll through the traffic of players into the goal. Khune was undoubtedly at fault, as despite the ball being very close to his goal, he managed little more than a flap at the ball, constructing a particularly colourful expression on his face to add to the plethora of others that he made during the first half.

South Africa remained utterly uninspiring for the rest of the half, as Morocco allowed themselves to sit back a bit further and protect their lead, periodically releasing a member of their forward line on the counter attack. Aside from a couple of unproductive series of play from the hosts, largely relying on the nippy Phala and Rantie to run at the defence, Lamyaghri had no saves to make the whole half. Dean Furman was noticeably absent from South Africa’s build up place, making life nowhere near as difficult as he did for the Angolan midfield in the previous game, as they remained bereft of creativity.

Khune made up for his earlier cock-up just before half-time, as Morocco caught Bafana’s defence far too high up the pitch, allowing Chafni to be released on the break. In typical unorthodox fashion, Khune raced out form his goal to punish the Moroccan attacker’s heavy touch, kneeling down and somehow managing to not handle the ball to prevent themselves going another goal down.

The second-half sparked a recognisable change in the hosts however, with the substitute Serero looking lively and likely to make things happen. As Morocco continued to sit back, making even more defensive changes in their substitutions, Phala came close to the equaliser as he forced a fantastic save from the Moroccan keeper from about 30 yards out. At the other end, Khune proved his worth once again, denying El Arabi an excellent chance to double their advantage.

And how important it would prove to be. In the 70th minute, a slightly laboured build-up play from South Africa eventually gave Mahlangu some space on the edge of the area, as his curled it beautifully into the top corner of the goal, as they advanced to the top of the group and Morocco dropped to 3rd place. The time wasting and defensive substitutions were most certainly at fault for Morocco here, as they were continuously pushed back and back, making them look a bit ridiculous at the end. South Africa 1 – 1 Morocco.

There was still time for twist however. Taking the blushes away from his coach somewhat, it was substitute Bergdich who got to the byline for Morocco, pulling it back to the other substitute Hafidi to power past Khune, meaning they once again returned to the top of the group with 10 minutes to go. South Africa 1 – 2 Morocco.

South Africa threw everything forward, and were rewarded for their efforts. Slipping a ball through the strangely large gap between the centre-backs, the centre-back Sangweni (playing as an auxiliary forward at this point) found himself with space on the edge of the area, as he curled a beautifully struck shot into the bottom corner to mix things up with less than five minutes remaining. Both teams were still going through at this point. South Africa 2 – 2 Morocco.

The final minutes were played out in an odd malaise of time-wasting, fake injuries and flair ups between the players, with Morocco not obviously showing much desperation to score as you would expect – throwing into question whether they realised that the goal that Cape Verde had just scored meant they were going out.

Their faces at the end said it all though. Face-rubbing, gazing to the sky and lying on the floor all round, as overly defensive tactics and substitutes too early on really cost them in this match, preventing them from looking too dangerous when it really mattered. South Africa weren’t particularly impressive the whole match, but two wonderfully taken goals made up for their general lack of impetus going forward, as they dumped out what was no-doubt a technically superior Morocco team. Nevertheless, AFCON 2013 will be made a better tournament for this result, with the hosts going through almost certainly improving the atmosphere and quality of the competition overall we hope.

Man of the Match: Thuso Phala

A constant danger on the right-side, the winger’s exquisite pace and jinking dribbling style were what made South Africa look so dangerous, despite not getting on the scoresheet. As well as that wonderfully struck free-kick, Phala most certainly brought back the form that he’s demonstrated all season with Platinum Stars, and helped send his side through to the next round.

CAPE VERDE 2-1 ANGOLA

Angolan coach Gustavo Ferrín changed half of his squad following their terrible performance against South Africa, reverting back to a slightly more traditional tactic. Airosa came on for Lunguinha, Amaro took the wing, replacing Miguel and up front, Guilherme and Geraldo were replaced by Gilberto and Djalma, along with Dédé, who was dropped in favour of Manucho Dinis.

Cape Verde only made a single change, with Carlitos coming on for Nivaldo on the right-wing, a sign that coach Lúcio Antunes was happy with his squad, after just drawing to Morocco.

Balanced, but uneventful

The first half was rather dull, opportunity wise, but with Angola dominating the match in the first portion of the half, trying to make the best of Manucho, who only managed to create a couple of opportunities.

Cape Verde eventually came into the match and attempted to outplay the Angolans, using the stars of the previous match, Platini and Ryan Mendes.

However, the first goal of the match went to Angola. A fast run from the left-back Amaro, who crossed into the path of Manucho, who got a touch on the ball and along with a slight deflection from Nando, the ball bobbled past Vozinha to give Angola the lead.

Cape Verde still tried to respond to the goal with chances from Tavares and Babanco. The interval came with Angola leading, but with both squads showing signs of anxiousness and uncertainty, as the other match was not working the way that either team wanted.

I’m sorry, did I say uneventful?

The second half began with Cape Verde being denied the equalizer by Manucho Dinis, who managed to clear the ball on the line twice , following a Cape Verdean set piece.

With Heldon coming on at half-time, Cape Verde began to control and also took advantage of his set piece taking capabilities, with a brilliantly taken free kick that was very well saved by Lamá.

Marco Soares and Júlio Tavares also tried giving Cape Verde the equalizer but failed and at this point in the match, South Africa had equalized, which meant that Angola would qualify.

Cue drama.

On the 81st minute, Heldon placed a corner to the center of the 6-yard-box, Lamá had poor judgement and failed the clearance. The ball then bounced to the near post and despite Dinis’ best attempts to clear the ball on the line once again, Fernando Varela managed to head it in, giving the Blue Sharks the equalizer. However, as it stood, it was still South Africa and Morocco the teams that would qualify.

10 minutes later, already in extra time and with 2 more goals in the other match, which still meant that neither team would pass this stage, came the goal that would turn everyone’s frown upside down (well, unless you’re Angolan or Moroccan).

A counter-attack from the Cape Verdeans, a cross from the right, which Lamá palmed into the path of Heldon, who shot the ball hard into the back of net and giving Cape Verde the access to the quarter-finals and reprising the role he played in Yaoundé, where he put his nation in this Afcon.

2-1 was the full-time score and the debutant nation the size of Glasgow makes history.

Man of the Match: Heldon Ramos

The 24-year-old was instrumental as the Blue Sharks completed a dramatic late turnaround to book their place in the knockout phase. It was his corner which caused havoc in the Angolan ranks, ultimately leading to Varela’s equaliser, and then, crucially, he lashed in the winner in added time to break Moroccan hearts and surely elevate him to a symbol of reverence  in Cape Verde for eternity.

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