BAFANA Bafana reached their first Orange Africa Cup of Nations soccer quarterfinal in 11 years in dramatic fashion with last night's fighting 2-2 draw against Morocco at Moses Mabhida Stadium. A spectacular match that swung in fortunes four times will go down as the best of the tournament so far.
Importantly, South Africa qualified as Group A leaders which means they should face DR Congo or Mali, rather than Ghana, in the quarters.
In truth, last night Bafana might have conceded more than Issam El Adoua and Abdelilah Hafid's's 10th- and 82nd-minute strikes. But in twice coming back from a goal down, South Africa showed the fight, passion and pride of a host nation.
May Mahlangu and Siyabonga Sangweni's 71st- and 87th-minute equalisers will be remembered for years to come.
Gordon Igesund kept the attacking starting line-up from the side which beat Angola 2-0 here on Wednesday.
Morocco coach Rachid Taoussi made five changes from the team which drew 1-1 against Cape Verde on Wednesday, notably dropping Oussama Assaidi and Mounir El Hamdaoui.
In a nervous start, Bafana had to contend with a Morocco who came out flying. Before three minutes were on the clock, Youssef Kadioui had shot wide from range and a clearance from Itumeleng Khune had ricocheted off Youssef El Arabi.
The Bafana goalkeeper saved his team on two occasions in the first half, the first when he stopped El Arabi's attempted chip in a one-on-one. In the 10th minute, the hesitant keeper was out-jumped by El Adoua to Abdelaziz Barrada's corner from the left, and the Morocco defensive midfielder's header bounced into goal.
Bafana settled to some extent and in the 26th Bernard Parker had a shot blocked on the edge of the area.
Khune made his second rescue when Chafni Kamal was played onside on a counter-attack by Sangweni and the keeper, 20m outside his area, somehow pulled off the challenge.
Igesund introduced Thulani Serero for Katlego Mphela just after the break. Soon after, Phala's free kick was hit venomously, forcing an excellent save from keeper Nadir Lamyaghri.
In the 59th minute, Khune made a third superb save in a one-on-one from El Arabi.
Then in the 71st minue came a masterful goal from Mahlangu. The playmaker collected the ball just outside the area from Rantie, turned and curled the strike of the tournament into the top-right corner.
Bafana's defensive fragility let them down again in the 82nd when substitute Hafdi was allowed acres of space to bury Kadioui's chip as Morocco regained the lead.
But big central defender Sangweni popped up on the left of the Morocco area and produced a delicate shot, placed beautifully to the right of Lamyaghri.