Kermit Erasmus, Percy Tau, Andile Jali were all on target as Bafana brushed aside Guinea-Bissau in Durban.
Complacency crept in midway throughthe second half, and Bafana nearly threw the game away as Balde made things awkward with that 70th minute strike, but they quickly recovered and started playing with more intent to see off their opponents.
All the talk coming into this game was around Kamohelo Mokotjo’s citizenship debacle, and the country was divided on whether or not he should be given his South African citizenship back.
The Bafana camp remained calm of the situation as Owen Da Gama channelled his players’ mindsets to concentrate on the task at hand – that was to try by all means to beat Guinea-Bissau.
In the end, Mokotjo was granted resumption of his SA citizenship, and the entire country expected him to perform, especially after being named in the starting line-up ahead of the likes of Hlompho Kekana and Jali in the middle of the park.
Mokotjo earned the plaudits of the majority of South African fans – his first half performance was pleasing to the human eye. His passes were always on point, while he combined brilliantly with Keagan Dolly, Thulani Serero and Erasmus in the final third.
It wasn’t surprising to see Bafana head into the half-time break leading by 1-0, even if it came from the spot after a controversial penalty was awarded to the hosts in the 35th minute.
Serero’s persistent run saw him get the ball behind on-rushing Mbaye, before rounding the Guinea-Bissau goalkeeper, but Brito Silva clipped him from behind as he was preparing to take a shot.
The referee immediately pointed to the spot, giving advantage to the hosts in front of not so packed Moses Mabhida Stadium. Perhaps the cloudy weather in Durban was to blame for the poor attendance.
Erasmus stepped up and coolly converted for what was only his second international goal in 12 appearances for the South African senior national team.
In fact, Bafana should have had more than just a goal at the end of the first 45 minutes, but Serero failed to take responsibility and opted for a back heel when he should have pulled the trigger from inside the small box.
Guinea-Bissau hardly threatened the hosts, and despite putting together a string of good passes in midfield, none of them could trouble Bafana as they always had enough numbers behind the ball to protect goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune.
Da Gama changed things around in the second half as he probably wanted to give as many players a chance as possible. The move somehow affected the fluidity of the game, and Bafana never attacked with the same intensity.
Questions would be asked about the quality of the African Wild Dogs, as they really struggled to test Khune even when Bafana appeared to have taken their foot off the pedal.
They were punished by debutant Tau, who curled the ball in from the left hand side of Guinea-Bissau’s box to make it 2-0 to the South Africans following a delightful Dolly pass.
Guinea-Bissau goalkeeper Mbaye should shoulder part of the blame for his poor positioning leading up to the goal.
Their best chance of the game came in the 70th minute when Eric Mathoho’s defensive blunder allowed Joao Mario to go through on goal, but Khune swept the ball off his feet, before Guinea-Bissau blasted the rebound over the crossbar.
Substitute Amido Balde did however, pull one back for the visitors, beating Khune with a low shotfrom close range after some poor defensive display by Bafana allowed a cross to be whipped into the box.
At this stage, it was bucketing down and Guinea-Bissau showed great determination and hunger to level matters. Bafana weathered the storm, and defended in numbers to keep Guinea-Bissau at bay.
Bafana put the game to bed in the closingstages, thanks to Jali’s sublime finish from the penalty spot. This was after Kekana went down inside the Guinea-Bissau box.
Although Bafana scored thriceon the day, some would point out that there were cracks in defense, and maybe a tougher opponent would have taken advantage of that.
Now, Da Gama’s focus shifts to Angola on Tuesday, and he will be hoping to have Jali fit for the encounter. The midfielder was stretchered off the pitch after picking up a shoulder injury deep into stoppage time.