Striker Percy Tau scored a second-half brace, while stand-in goalkeeper Dareen Keet made several crucial saves to help South Africa beat Libya 2-1 in their final Group E qualifier at the Stade Taieb Mhiri in Sfax, Tunisia on Sunday, to qualify for this year’s Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON), to be staged in Egypt from 21 June to 19 July.
The win – Bafana Bafana’s third in the qualifying campaign – means they finish second behind Nigeria in their group, on 12 points, and ensures that they become one of the 24 teams that will compete in this year’s expanded competition.
Stuart Baxter’s men came into the match needing just a point to qualify while the Mediterranean Knights needed nothing less than three points to topple them and finish as the group’s second-best team. It was, therefore, no surprise that the Libyans came out very strongly in the opening minutes of the game, attacking their visitors from the onset and giving them very little time on the ball with their high pressing. Keet’s first save came on 22 minutes when he swallowed up a clean shot at goal from inside the 18-yard area.
His safe hands came in handy for his team once again when he saved and held on to a high shot that was taken from outside the box and looked to be on target, in added time. With Bafana not having created any real scoring chance and enjoying only 32% of the possession, the teams went into the break with the score at 0-0.
But it only took three minutes for the deadlock to be broken in the second half, via a brilliant Percy Tau strike into the top right hand corner of the net, after he was allowed space and time to decide against playing a quick through ball to strike partner Lebo Mothiba but instead go for the shot.
Three minutes later, Libya introduced lanky striker Anis Saltou who added a bit of attacking threat. It was Dareen Keet’s foul on him on 63 minutes which resulted in the home team being awarded a penalty, from which Ahmad Ben Ali would level the scores. Keet left his leg trailing in the air to brush Saltou on the face when sticking out his knee to go after a high ball. With the striker rolling on the floor and the large crowd appealing for a spot kick, the referee decided to award it.
But it would only take three minutes for Tau to strike again, after a training ground corner kick move which included himself, Themba Zwane and Kamohelo Mokotjo resulted in his second goal from inside the box. He was again allowed a bit of space by the tiring Libyans defence, which he took full advantage of by curling a right-footed shot into the bottom right hand corner.
Tau almost had a third on 87 minutes when he missed a one-on-one with an oncoming keeper, shooting just wide. At that point, the subdued crowd had resorted to throwing missiles into the pitch in frustration. The former Mamelodi Sundowns star would come off deep into added time and was replaced by Lars Veldwyk.
Bafana finished the qualifiers unbeaten, having conceded only two goals, the other being Buhle Mkhwanazi’s own-goal in the last match against the Super Eagles.