Bafana Bafana took another massive step towards qualification for the 2022 FIFA World Cup after beating Ethiopia 1-0 in a Group G qualifier at the FNB Stadium.
For the first time in over 18 months, a small but enthusiastic group of 2000 fans were allowed inside a stadium to watch a South African sporting event, and they did not leave disappointed.
An Ethiopia own goal in the 10th minute of the match put Bafana Bafana in control of the contest, handing them a lead they would never relinquish.
The victory sees Hugo Broos’ men return to the top of their qualifying group on 10 points, with Ghana dropping down to second place on nine points after their win over Zimbabwe earlier in the day. Bafana host Zimbabwe in their next qualifier in November, while Ghana must travel to take on Ethiopia.
South Africa headed into the match full of confidence thanks to Saturday’s 3-1 victory in the reverse fixture, with Evidence Makgopa being rewarded with a starting berth following his goal off the bench and Sekhukhune midfielder Yusuf Maart and Kaizer Chiefs defender Njabulo Ngcobo also including in the starting line-up.
The home side started brightly and were rewarded after just 10 minutes when Victor Letsoalo’s header was helped into the next by Ethiopian forward Getaneh Kebede, who was trying to clear the danger but succeeded only in finding the back of his own net.
That left the visitors chasing the game early, with Kebede in particular eager to make amends and very nearly doing so with a couple of close-range efforts in quick succession.
Letsoalo should have made the Ethiopians pay for those missed chances on 35 minutes after being teed up beautifully by Bongokuhle Hlongwane following a counter-attack down the right, but his shot went flying over from close range in what was a major let-off for the visitors.
Ten minutes into the second half, Bafana came within inches of doubling their lead when Evidence Makgopa’s strike was just about cleared off the line by defender Suleman Hamid.
Ethiopia were seeing a lot of the ball without proving too threatening, while Bafana Bafana were looking to catch the visitors on the counter-attack.
With 14 minutes to play, Bafana thought they deserved a penalty when Bongokuhle Hlongwane was brought down in the area, but the referee waved play on.
As the match heading into its final minutes, South Africa had a let-off of their own as Abel Yalew volleyed over the crossbar to spurn a great equalising chance.
But much to the delight of the 2 000 spectators in attendance, Bafana were able to see out the remaining minutes and hold on for the win – their third in a row – to stay on course for Qatar qualification.