South Africa claimed their maiden win in the 2022 Fifa World Cup qualification – Group G – when they defeated Ghana 1-0 at the 1996 Africa Cup of Nations final venue, FNB Stadium on Monday evening.
Bongokuhle Hongwane was the hero for Bafana Bafana as the Maritzburg United marksman grabbed a late winning goal which took the Southern African giants to the top of Group G standings with four games left.
Youngsters Hlongwane, 21, and Ethan Brooks, 20, were handed their full competitive debuts for Bafana as coach Hugo Broos made two changes to the team which faced Zimbabwe in their opening Group G game on Friday.
With seven key Black Stars players missing after being recalled by their European clubs over Covid-19 fears in South Africa, Ghana coach Charles Akonnor made seven changes to the team which took on Ethiopia last week.
Ghana were the better side in the opening exchanges with Mubarak Wakaso forcing goalkeeper Ronwen Williams into a low save from a free-kick and Andre Ayew dragged his shot wide of the target from inside the box.
South Africa were finding it difficult to penetrate the Black Stars’ resolute defence at this point with Percy Tau looking ineffective in the right forward and Gideon Mensah was doing a good job to contain Bafana’s star attacker.
Tau looked dangerous when playing in a central role and he thought he had handed Bafana the lead when he headed home Nyiko Mobbie’s cross following a good team move by the hosts, but the goal was disallowed for offside.
The momentum was with Bafana towards the half-time break and they were winning set-pieces near the Black Stars’ box, but keeper Richard Ofori made two good saves to deny Teboho Mokoena and Tau from set-pieces.
The hosts started brightly in the second-half and they should have taken the lead when Ofori allowed Mokoena’s cross to sneak between his legs, but somehow Mothobi Mvala missed a gaping open goal from closed range.
The hard-running Hlongwane then cut inside and unleashed a shot which was bravely blocked by Jonathan Mensah at the near-post, before an unmarked Evidence Makgopa connected with Tau’s corner-kick, but he failed to direct the ball towards goal.
The pressure was mounting on the visitors and Mvala’s acrobatic’s effort hit the side-netting after being set up by the troublesome Hlongwane and Akonnor reacted by replacing a tired-looking Ayew with speedy winger Samuel Owusu with 19 minutes left.
However, things were not going Ghana’s way on the night as their finest keeper, Ofori went down injured and the Orlando Pirates shot-stopper was replaced by Lawrence Ati-Zigi.
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Broos then introduced Njabulo Blom, who was involved in the build-up to the hosts’ goal after the Black Stars failed to clear Thapelo Morena’s cross and Hlongwane was there to tap the ball home to hand South Africa a 1-0 lead in the 83rd minute.
Ghana then surged forward in numbers as they looked to snatch a late equalizing goal, but the hosts’ defence stood firm, and ultimately, South Africa claimed a well-deserved 1-0 victory on the night.
The Group G action will continue next month with Bafana taking on Ethiopia both home and away, while the Black Stars are also scheduled to play Zimbabwe twice