South Africa booked their place in the quarter-finals of the 2019 Africa Cup of Nation following a 1-0 win over hosts and seven-time champions Egypt.
A surprisingly tense affair was settled in the dying moments when Bafana Bafana forward Thembinkosi Lorch arguably caused the biggest upset of these championships.
Egypt, despite their possession and territorial advantage, never looked comfortable as South Africa played more adventurously compared to previous outings. The result, undoubtedly, sends ramifications and with the hosts, holders Cameroon and much-fancied Morocco all exiting this summer’s championship is very much open.
Naturally, there were individual winners and losers.
Winner: Stuart Baxter
Before the game South Africa manager Stuart Baxter stressed his side will not play concerstavly against Egypt, who shoulder the burden of an entire football-mad nation, instead they would go toe to toe and see what happens. It was a brash statement given how poorly they performed in the group stages, and given the recent struggles of Bafana Bafana, just getting here was an achievement. Baxter would also play down comparisons with his side and the heroes of 1996 who lifted the nation’s only Afcon title. However, given what they’ve gone and done, it will be hard to avoid.
Loser: Javier Aguirre
It’s not always easy having Mohamed Salah at your disposal. Such is his sheer force of personality, and match-winning abilities, everything consequently gets played through him. It can be a blessing or a curse. Being too dependant on Salah could impact on the team’s performance especially if there isn’t a contingency plan (or two). Fortunately, for The Pharaohs, he’ stepped up but not today and because there wasn’t another way much of this defeat falls on their manager Javier Aguirre.
Winner: Thembinkosi Lorch
South Africa would be the first to admit they haven’t played great at these championships. Two defeats from their opening three games and just one goal scored was enough to illustrate their struggles. However, if there’s one area where they are strong it’s team spirit and believing in a brighter tomorrow, playing the hosts in their backyard alleviated some of the pressures on their shoulders and when the moment arrived it was important to make it count. Thembinkosi Lorch, starting in his first game at the 2019 Afcon, did just that when five minutes left on the clock he coolly slotted home Lebo Mothiba’s pass following a lightning break.
Loser: Marwan Mohsen
Despite his failure to be involved among Egypt’s opening five goals of their home tournament Marwan Mohsen was again entrusted to start against South Africa and though he was effective in winning aerial duels it wasn’t the same when it came to his bread and butter. Mohsen could only get one shot on goal (albeit on target) before he was hooked off at half-time. A meagre effort from a position of great responsibility.
Winner: Ronwen Williams
Ronwen Williams began South Africa’s campaign between the sticks against Ivory Coast, losing 1-0, before watching their win over Namibia (1-0) he’d return in the subsequent game against Morocco before starting here tonight. Given the circumstances, gulf in quality between the sides being one, the Supersprt United ‘keeper expected a busy evening and he got just that. But he was up for the task, not once daunted by the occasion, Williams – collecting just his ninth cap at senior international level – commanded his area like a veteran.
Loser: Mohamed Salah
This one hurts. Only few can imagine the pressure Mohamed Salah is under. He is, unquestionably, the most important player of his nation and the one who can bring success given his current status among the game’s elite. Salah, truthfully, has enjoyed a good tournament before tonight and even in this match he wasn’t Egypt’s worst player. Unfortunately, it’s a different standard when it comes to him, so he’s failed in that sense. Aguirre pre-match said lifting the Afcon title would open Salah’s path to succeeding Luka Modric as Ballon d’Or recipient, without it now those chances have somewhat diminished slightly.