South Africa’s Africa Cup of Nations celebrations were put on ice as Congo-Brazzaville survived a late flurry to hold out for a goalless group A draw in Polokwane on Wednesday night.
As it happened: Bafana v Congo
On a night where a win would have secured a place at the continental showpiece for Shakes Mashaba and his troops, Congo did enough to ensure a share of the spoils at a soaking wet Peter Mokaba Stadium.
Mandla Masango had a goal disallowed four minutes from the end for offside, 20 minutes after Congo also saw their celebrations cut short due to a goal from an offside position.
Although not guaranteed yet, Bafana Bafana remain in control of group A with eight points, consolidating top spot, which they stole from Congo four days prior in Pointe Noire.
Mashaba and his outfit will need a result from their remaining fixtures against Sudan, at home, and Nigeria, away, with the all-important 10-point mark the next assignment.
A break down the line and then along the goal-line signalled the first chance for the hosts as Tokelo Rantie ran riot behind the defence.
A block from the defence let Congo off the hook but Bafana were in control during the opening exchanges.
Bafana were wrestled onto the back foot for the first time after 35 minutes from a dangerous set-piece, forcing Senzo Meyiwa into a brilliant last ditch save to deny Delvin Ndinga.
A tentative rest of the half followed as Bafana relied on a patient build-up, hoping to catch Congo on the break.
A block from a trio of South African defenders thwarted highly-rated Thievy Bifouma, but that was to be the closest either side came as the opening half came to an end.
Not even a massive bolt of lightning, which made landfall just outside the arena, could spark a chance for South Africa.
A cloudburst during the interval followed, leaving a soggy Peter Mokaba pitch and a depleted Polokwane crowd, which ran for cover.
Despite the rain, South Africa stuck to their guns and continued to bomb the Congo defence with a number of high balls, while Rantie made a nuisance of himself in attack.
Ferebory Dore’s goal was disallowed for offside after the hour mark, the same player flashed wide with his header, before Oupa Manyisa failed to keep his shot down shortly after coming on to replace Thulani Serero.
Masango then found himself with the ball at his feet in the 77th minute, the Kaizer Chiefs flier narrowly pushing his shot past the far post in what was South Africa’s standout chance.
South Africa were back on top as the clock wound down the final 10 minutes. Second-half replacement, Kermit Erasmus, struck the side-netting after a stunning piece of link-up between Andile Jali and Sibusiso Vilakazi.
Masango sent the home supporters into a state of wild celebrations just minutes from the end, but Manyisa had strayed into an offside position before providing Masango with the pass, the assistant referee correctly flagging for offside.
That was to be the last action as Congo held on for dear life.
South Africa hosts Sudan in mid-November, before travelling to the ever-tricky Nigeria shortly after.
South Africa: Meyiwa, Hlatshwayo, Mathoho, Coetzee, Khumalo, Furman, Jali, Masango, Serero (Manyisa 67’), Rantie (Vilakazi 80’), Ndulula (Erasmus 63’)
Congo: Massa, F N’Ganga (Boukama 77’), Baudry, Moutou, I Nganga, Ngonga, Ndinga, Oniangue, Gandze, Dore, Bifouma