Stuart Baxter proved to be the man for Bafana Bafana when his team got off to a winning start when (South Africa) they defeated Nigeria 2-0 in a Group E 2019 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier at the Godswill Akpabio International Stadium on Saturday.
It was a do or die situation for Baxter who was under duress to prove to those who were against his appointment as the head coach of the national team. The opening period was a cagey affair, a clear sign of the respect the two sides had for each other. When the game settled into a rhythm, though, it was Nigeria on the attack trying to break down the superb defensive organisation of the South Africans.
The Nigerians attempted to find a way through Bafana’s tight, compact defensive lines, but with little success. On many occasions, though, timely interceptions from Dean Furman and Thulani Hlatshwayo stopped the Super Eagles in their tracks.
The first opportunity came in the 22nd minute when Manchester City’s Kelechi Iheanacho played in Oghenekaro Etebo, but the midfielder’s effort sailed agonisingly wide. Later, another chance opened up for Nigeria, but this time Bafana goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune was at hand to tip over Moses Simon’s dangerous-looking cross.
While the Nigerians continued to hog possession, they were frustrated by a South African side sticking to its sound, cohesive game plan. But, when the home side lost the ball, Bafana were quick to counter and, on one such occasion, they should have scored.
Left-back Tebogo Langerman was sent haring down the flank and his cross into the penalty area was spilt by Nigeria goalkeeper Daniel Akpeyi. When the ball fell loose, South African winger Themba Zwane was first to react, but, amazingly, confronted with an empty net, he stabbed the ball against the upright.