Bafana Bafana started their Africa Cup of Nations campaign with a 1-0 defeat to Ivory Coast at Al Salam Stadium in Cairo on Monday afternoon.
Bafana coach Stuart Baxter always knew that starting the competition against the two-time champions would be difficult for his men, who made a shaky start to the encounter. The lacklustre Bafana could hardly threaten the opposition goalkeeper in the first half and they gave away possession cheaply.
They did well to go into half-time without a goal conceded, considering the Ivorians had two glorious opportunities in the first stanza.
French Ligue 1 winger Nicolas Pepe struck the crossbar with a sweetly struck set piece just after the half hour mark before Aston Villa forward Jonathan Kodjia forced a brilliant save from SuperSport United shot-stopper Ronwen Williams, who got the nod in between the sticks ahead of Darren Keet.
There was very little improvement from Bafana in the second period. There was no creativity going forward and it was no surprise that Baxter brought in Mamelodi Sundowns attacker Sibusiso Vilakazi to try get the team to make more entries into the opposition box, but it did not work. Instead it was Ivory Coast who took the lead through Kodjia, who connected with a cross from Max Gradel to give the West Africans the lead.
Williams pulled off a brilliant save in the dying minutes of the match to deny Pepe from a free kick just outside the area. Williams justified his selection in the starting line-up with his performance in goal and will no doubt be favoured to start again when Bafana take on North Africans Namibia on Friday night.
Bafana had a total of four shots at goal throughout the game, two of which were on target. This should be a concern for Baxter, who needs to come up with a better plan to open up the Namibian defence on Friday. It’s a game the team will be looking to win to keep their hopes of progressing alive.
Bafana XI: Williams, Mkhize, Hlatshwayo, Mkhwanazi, Hlanti, Furman, Mokotjo, Maboe (Vilakazi 75'), Zwane, Tau, Mothiba (Veldwijk 82').
Ivory Coast XI: Gbohouo, Aurier, Coulibaly (Doumbia 87'), Traore, Kessi, Kanon, Seri (Zaha 69'), Serey Die, Gradel (Cornet 87'), Pepe, Kodjia.