Cairo, Egypt | AFP | Thembinkosi Lorch scored on 85 minutes to give South Africa a stunning 1-0 victory over Africa Cup of Nations hosts Egypt after a pulsating last-16 clash in Cairo Saturday.
After three woeful group performances, South Africa were rank outsiders against the record seven-time African champions, whose line-up included Liverpool star Mohamed Salah.
A seesaw struggle was settled when a swift counterattack allowed Lebo Mothiba to send Lorch through and he fired past goalkeeper Mohamed Elshenawy.
The winners were unrecognisable from the team that struggled in the group stage as they displayed sharpness and desire not previously evident.
South Africa will face arch-rivals Nigeria, who eliminated defending champions Cameroon in Alexandria earlier Saturday, in the quarter-finals.
Salah, who missed some midweek training due to a cold, was generally well policed by a superbly organised South African defence.
Egypt changed three of the side that defeated Uganda to complete Group A with a 100 percent record, five goals scored and none conceded.
Back came defender Mahmoud Alaa, midfielder Tarek Hamed and forward Marwan Mohsen with Baher Elmohamady, Nabil Donga and Ahmed Hassan dropping to the bench.
South Africa made two changes, both in midfield, from the team that lost to Morocco and squeezed into the second round with the worst record of the best four third-place teams.
In came South African Premiership Player of the Season Lorch and fit-again Dean Furman for Thulani Serero and suspended Themba Zwane.
Bafana Bafana (The Boys) had been woeful in all three Group D matches, barely troubling rival defences, and the public and media slammed the negative tactics of coach Stuart Baxter.
The England-born coach hinted at a more attacking approach and was true to his word as Percy Tau and Lorch had ambitious long-range attempts at goal within three minutes of the kick-off.
– Tormented –
Salah, the reigning African Footballer of the Year, had a shot deflected wide soon after.
Mahmoud ‘Trezeguet’ Hassan, one of the Pharaohs’ stars in the group stage, tormented several defenders just outside the box and induced a foul, but Abdallah el Said botched the free-kick.
The desire of South Africa to attack was evident again on 15 minutes when impressive winger Tau stung the fingertips of Elshenawy with a hard, long-range shot.
Tau came much closer to breaking the deadlock midway through the half with a free-kick that cleared the wall and forced Elshenawy into a brilliant save.
South Africa were looking the likelier side to break the deadlock and a brave block by Ayman Ashraf foiled Lorch.
Mokotjo then unleashed a sizzling low,long-range shot that flew past Elshenawy but finished just off target,
The frustration of Egypt, who scored all five group goals before half-time, was mirrored in the angry reaction of Salah when a free-kick was awarded against him.
Mexico-born Egypt coach Javier Aguirre altered his largely ineffective attack at half-time, bringing in veteran Ahmed Ali for Mohsen.
‘Trezeguet’ squandered a great chance just before the hour, tamely shooting straight at goalkeeper Ronwen Williams after a superb defence-splitting pass from Salah.
Amr Warda, axed from the squad over sexual harassment allegations and swiftly recalled after player pressure, came off the bench on 64 minutes for his second tournament appearance.
South Africa captain Thulani Hlatshwayo headed just wide as he darted on to a free kick with 20 minutes remaining.
Nigeria topple holders Cameroon in Cup of Nations classic
Odion Ighalo scored twice and teed up Alex Iwobi’s winning goal as Nigeria eliminated defending Africa Cup of Nations champions Cameroon after a thrilling 3-2 victory in Alexandria on Saturday.
China-based forward Ighalo bundled home a scrappy opener but Clarence Seedorf’s Cameroon hit back through Stephane Bahoken and Clinton Njie with two quick-fire goals before half-time.
Nigeria drew level as Ighalo volleyed in his second just past the hour and he then turned provider to play in Iwobi to steer home three minutes later and set up an unexpected quarter-final clash with South Africa, who stunned hosts and favourites Egypt 1-0 in Cairo.
“It was a good win and it was a difficult game. Even when they scored to make it 2-1 we still believed we could score and come back,” said Ighalo, as coach Gernot Rohr praised the resilience of the Super Eagles.
“I think we dominated in the beginning and we scored a good goal. At the end of the first half there was a lack of concentration and Cameroon took advantage,” Rohr said.
“But my young team always continues fighting and never gives up.”
Seedorf was frustrated by Cameroon’s slow start although he could not fault the effort of his players.
“I feel disappointment obviously and also some anger because I thought we were a little bit tense in a few moments, but I have to appreciate the players have done everything they could today,” he said. “It was not enough.”
Seedorf’s penchant for change has seen the former Dutch star heavily rotate his side in Egypt, with Karl Toko Ekambi dropping to the bench here and 2017 player of the tournament Christian Bassogog recalled along with Njie in a bid to breathe life into a faltering attack.
Rohr had paid the price for resting key players in the shock 2-0 loss to Madagascar, with Wilfred Ndidi, Kenneth Omeruo and Alex Iwobi all returning to the starting line-up for this last-16 encounter.
– Momentum swings back and forth –
Nigeria eliminated Cameroon in the first knockout round the last time they were reigning champions in 2004, and their bid to repeat history looked on when Ighalo nudged Nigeria ahead after 19 minutes.
Moments after Michael Ngadeu-Ngadjui powered a header over at the other end, Peter Etebo hooked a deep cross to the far post where it was driven back across goal by Omeruo and Ighalo stabbed home via a huge deflection that wrong-footed goalkeeper Andre Onana.
It was the first time Cameroon had conceded in Egypt, but after scoring just twice in the group stage the Indomitable Lions matched that output in three frenzied minutes before half-time.
Bahoken pulled Cameroon level on 41 minutes when he ghosted in behind Omeruo to connect with a terrific whipped cross from Bassogog, and Njie soon fired them in front after outpacing Ola Aina to a flick-on, holding his nerve and balance to slip beyond Daniel Akpeyi.
Njie nearly got the better of Akpeyi again early in the second half, the Nigeria ‘keeper superbly clawing the ball out from just inside his post after the Marseille winger’s cutback was deflected towards goal.
Rohr introduced Samuel Chukwueze with an hour gone but it was Ighalo, the top scorer in qualifying, who came to the rescue once more with a thumping finish after Ahmed Musa chested a cross into his path.
Ighalo joined Senegal star Sadio Mane on a tournament-leading three goals and he played a key role in Iwobi’s decisive strike on 66 minutes, threading the ball through to the Arsenal winger to side-foot past Onana.
Ngadeu-Ngadjui toed wide at a corner but Cameroon struggled to truly threaten Nigeria in the closing stages with Ighalo denied a hat-trick late on as Onana plunged low to his right to knock away the forward’s header.