JOHANNESBURG, Jan 28: A night of unrelenting emotion ended in joy for South Africa and Cape Verde Islands and sorrow for Morocco and Angola as the four Group ‘A’ teams served up an African Nations Cup treat on Sunday.
As hosts South Africa and debutants Cape Verde rejoiced, Morocco and Angola were left shattered because at various stages of the evening they seemed to be on the brink of a place in the quarter-finals.
The two topsy-turvy games produced their own version of footballing musical chairs.
Cape Verde netted an injury-time winner through Heldon Ramos to come from behind and advance with a 2-1 victory over Angola at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth, preventing the Angolans from stealing through from last place in the group.
Siyabonga Sangweni’s 87th-minute equaliser kept alive the nervous home team as South Africa twice came from behind in a 2-2 draw with Morocco at the Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban, avoiding an early elimination and knocking out the disappointed Moroccans.
South Africa finished top of the group on goal difference and Cape Verde were second with five points while Morocco went home unbeaten after three successive draws while Angola, who faced the prospect of being eliminated even if they had beaten Cape Verde and South Africa had lost, finished bottom with one point.
Bafana Bafana (The Boys) owed the draw with Morocco to several superb saves by goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune and a never-say-die spirit as they came from behind twice to reach the last eight for the first time in 11 years.
Issam El Adoua and substitute Abdelilah Hafidi put the Atlas Lions ahead early in the first-half and late in the second, but May Mahlangu and Sangweni scored to salvage a point.
“We feel very, very proud to have achieved our first objective. I must thank the players and the fans,” said South Africa coach Gordon Igesund, who had only five months and seven matches to prepare for this tournament.
Angola led at half-time after Cape Verde captain Nando conceded an own goal and Fernando Varela levelled nine minutes from time to set up a thrilling finish in the first Africa Cup clash between two Portuguese-speaking nations.
Substitute Ramos hammered his shot into the roof of the Angolan net after the clock had ticked past 90 minutes, leading to chaotic celebrations as the entire Cape Verde squad and coaching staff ran onto the pitch to bury Ramos under a pile of bodies near the corner flag.
“Today we came here to win the game. There was no chance we could even consider a failure,” Cape Verde coach Lucio Antunes said.
“My team and I dedicate this victory to the wonderful people of the Cape Verde Islands.”
Group ‘A’: South Africa 2 Morocco 2 Cape Verde 2 Angola 1 —Agencies