Bafana Bafana’s hopes of reaching the World Cup in Brazil next year ended in heartbreak despite a Bernard Parker brace propelling them to an emphatic 4-1 victory over Botswana in their final qualifying match in Durban.
The hosts needed to win the game to have any hope of reaching the global spectacle next year, which they did, but Group A leaders Ethiopia, who Bafana needed to either lose or draw against Central African Republic, were 2-1 victors instead.
That enabled the east Africans to top the pool and reach the final 10-team qualifying stage at the expense of South Africa.
But there was no faulting the hosts at Moses Mabhida Stadium, where Kermit Erasmus and Dean Furman gave them a comfortable half-time lead.
Jerome Ramatlhakwane pulled one back in the 73rd minute, before Kaizer Chiefs forward Parker scored a free kick and a penalty in the closing stages to seal the win for Gordon Igesund’s team.
At the start, Kagisho Dikgacoi had the first opening for the hosts eight minutes in – two chances coming within the space of seconds as the midfielder burst through the middle and fired a rising shot straight into the palms of Kabelo Dambe.
The ball then rebounded to the Crystal Palace man, whose second shot was excellently blocked by the goalkeeper diving to his left.
Botswana hit back on the counter, and after the ball was cleared for a corner kick, Joel Mogorosi headed straight over.
In the 17th minute, Erasmus was sliced down on the edge of the box, presenting a fine opening for the hosts.
For Igesund, who spoke at length during the week about set piece play and a lack of cutting edge in the final third, Tshabalala wastefully curled over from 20 yards out.
Parker was next to have an opening for the hosts when he was played through on the left by Erasmus, but the ball was crashed well over.
The deadlock was finally broken in the 28th minute when Mogogi Gabonamong needlessly conceded a corner and Tshabalala’s ball into the near post was flicked on by Parker for Erasmus to head home.
The goal was greeted by a huge sense of relief by Igesund, and spurred on by that release of pressure, Parker almost doubled the advantage when Rantie’s cut back was arrowed towards the top corner, only for an acrobatic intervention from Dambe to tip the ball over.
Before the break, Mogorosi forced Itumeleng Khune to turn the attempt away for a corner, before Furman collected Parker’s ball in stoppage time and beat Dambe with his clever finish off the upright to give the home team the ideal platform heading into the interval.
After the restart, it was back to sparring again for both sides with the visitors twice shooting from distance via Mogakolodi Ngele and substitute Lemponye Tshireletso, the former firing at Khune and the latter well over.
The Zebras were celebrating shortly after, though, when Ramatlhakwna headed in a probing left-sided cross by Tshireletso.
With six minutes to go, Parker made the game safe courtesy of a free kick into the left corner and a penalty at the death, awarded after Daine Klate was fouled in the box, but news from Brazzaville meant the game ended in disappointment.
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