DURBAN, South Africa South Africa fought back twice to draw 2-2 with Morocco in a Group A thriller on Sunday and qualify for the African Nations Cup quarterfinals. Bafana Bafana (The Boys) finished level on five points with Cape Verde, and a better goal difference enabled the hosts to stay above the debutants, whose fairy-tale continued with a 2-1 triumph over Angola in Port Elizabeth.
Issam El Adoua and Abdelilah Hafidi put the Atlas Lions ahead in this Indian Ocean city only for May Mahlangu and Siyabonga Sangweni to equalise and condemn Morocco to a fourth consecutive first round exit. "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.
"Morocco were a very tough team. I do not want to point out mistakes, but we conceded two goals we should not have done. There are now two games to the final and I believe in my players." Rival coach Rachid Taoussi said: "I am very disappointed with the result, but we fought with dignity and honour. I am satisfied. We did not lose a game and the tournament was a positive one for me.
"This Cup of Nations was a step forward and we will now prepare for the 2014 World Cup qualifiers. Our main objective is the 2015 Cup of Nations, which Morocco host." Bafana appeared stricken by nerves in the early stages as the Atlas Lions attacked from the kick-off to quieten a sell-out 60,000 crowd at Moses Mabhida Stadium. Suspended Morocco midfield star Younes Belhanda was not being missed as young Spain-based Abdelaziz Barrada took control and the home team had several scares before falling behind on 10 minutes.
El Adoua rose highest in the heart of the six-yard box to nod in a corner with goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune reacting too slowly as the South African defence was once more exposed at a set piece. Morocco were comfortably containing the host nation, apart from a Bernard Parker shot from an acute angle that flew across veteran goalkeeper Nadir Lamyaghri but wide of the far post.
Kamel Chafni had a glorious chance to double the advantage on the stroke of half-time as he sprung an offside trap and broke clear, but Khune raced outside his box, blocked the ball with his legs and cleared it. There have been concerns for some time about the pace and positional sense of South Africa centre-backs Sangweni and captain Bongani Khumalo and they were caught badly napping on the hour mark.
Big striker Youssef El Arabi found himself alone with just Khune to beat, but the goalkeeper once again came to the rescue with a one-hand parry that was cleared. It proved a costly miss as South Africa levelled on 71 minutes with Sangweni bursting into opposition territory and finding Tokelo Rantie, whose pass was superbly curled into the net by Mahlangu.
In a dramatic finish, South Africa fell behind again when substitute Hafidi fired home on 82 minutes only for defender Sangweni to level four minutes later with a curling shot any striker would have been proud of. AFP