Hosts South Africa were held to a 0-0 draw by Cape Verde Islands in the opening match of the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations on Saturday.
The extent of South Africa’s decline as a force in African football was ably demonstrated at Soccer City, Johannesburg, where traditional minnows Cape Verde shut out the heavyweight with relative ease.
South Africa Thuso Phala orchestrated the first incident of noe, tricking Nivaldo inside the opening minute, before being hauled down and winning Bafana-Bafana a free kick in a dangerous position.
It produced what proved to be one of the best moments in the match for the home side, as Siphiwe Tshabalala’s free-kick met Bongani Khumalo, who headed wide of the post.
South Africa made most of the attacking moves in the first half, but struggled to keep hold of the balling, gifting Cape Verde plenty of possession.
In the 16th minute Cape Verde gave South Africa a scare, as Babanco split the defence with a brilliant through-ball, playing Platini in on goal. The Santa Clara striker wasted the opportunity, dragging his shot wide.
Cape Verde then won a free-kick, but Heldon’s curling effort flew harmlessly over Khune’s crossbar.
After half an hour Tshabalala’s cross found Phala at the back post, but the Platinum Stars midfielder could not control the ball, allowing the opportunity to slip away.
Next it was the turn of Kagisho Dikgacoi to try his hand, the Crystal Palace midfielder’s speculative shot from distance flying high over the crossbar.
It was end-to-end stuff as Babanco’s corner for Cape Verde was flicked toward the back post by Fernando Neves to Ryan Mendes, but the striker couldn’t keep his effort down and the ball soared over the bar.
Lerato Chabango replaced Dikgacoi at the beginning of the second half, a clear sign South Africa coach Gordan Igesund was ready to take a risk.
In the 56th minute Bafana-Bafana cut through the Islanders’ defence from the right wing, as Majoro fed Parker. The Chiefs striker was blocked by Varela, but the ball fell for Tshabalala, whose strike was parried brilliantly by Vozinha.
With half an hour to go Tshabalala was replaced by Ajax attacking midfielder Thulani Serero, who is yet to regain full match fitness following a long injury layoff.
Cape Verde coach Lucio Antunes also made his first change, bringing on Julio Tavares for Platini.
Igesund soon brought on Bafana’s most potent striker Katlego Mphela to replace Majoro. The Sundowns man has also just returned from a long term injury.
Serero made an immediate impact with a beautiful reverse pass, picking out Parker just outside the box.
Nivaldo was there to intercept and the Cape Verde defence continued to frustrate the home crowd.
In the 71st minute the visitors nearly silenced them as a clever cross from Babanco reached Mendes, whose superb diving header fell just wide of a scrambling Khune.
Captain Khumalo could have won it for South Africa in injury time with a header from a corner, but it wasn’t to be and Cape Verde deserved a draw.
Even though Bafana once again failed to score, they are still in the competition, needing points from their next two games against Angola and Morocco to progress to the second round.