OPINION: The power of the beautiful game
This week's World Cup qualifying clash between Bafana Bafana and the Angolan national side provided a break from the emotionally charged fallout from the bombings in Paris.
The football world came into the spotlight when the planned clash between Germany and the Netherlands was called off due to security threats, while England hosted France and gave them much-needed support when the Wembley stadium was lit up in the colours of the French flag.
That's what the beautiful game does. Brings people together, regardless of race, religion or culture.
Closer to home Bafana Bafana progressed to the next round of World Cup qualifiers against a stubborn Angolan side who fought to the end at the Moses Mabida stadium in Durban on Tuesday.
It was always going to be an interesting match-up considering the first leg was an easy win for Bafana away from home, but Angola always looked like they could pull something out the hat. The first leg was a cagey affair, especially after Bafana conceded that early goal. The boys did, however, bounce back and showed their quality by scoring three important away goals.
This meant that many South Africans were hoping for a treat in the return leg at home in Durban. That was not the case for the fans, who made the atmosphere exciting, which eventually turned out to be more than what the match itself offered.
Angola came out the blocks flying which was expected because of the aggregate score. They pressed us high up the field hoping we would make mistakes and capitalise on that. We did have some scares in the opening minutes with captain Jackson Mabokgwane fluffing and fumbling a few crosses. Angola kept up the pressure with a few pot shots but nothing that really threatening.
But they did get an opportunity to open the scoring after some good work down the left flank by Mega Dolly who put in a ball that bobbled around the area before Freddy blasted over the bar. The intent they showed was obviously frustrating for coach Shakes Mashaba and the supporters. Mashaba screamed from the touchline for more movement upfront from our attackers, who seemed to be lost without enough service. The Angolan game plan was working, frustrating Bafana, forcing them backwards and not allowing too much time on the ball. This resulted in no shots on goal for the home team and a lot of back tracking and defending by our attacking players. Players like Mandla Masango and Mpho Makola had very little influence on the game due to Angola's high pressing game. We went into the break all square at 0-0 but 3-1 on aggregate.
The second half started off much better for Bafana with the home team showing a bit more guile and intent in the opening exchanges. They looked like they just shifted it up a gear and this gave us a little bit of confidence to get that killer punch. But it was the visitors who got another glorious chance to score through Gelson who rounded Mabokgwane but hit the upright to the delight of the home supporters. Our left-hand side was our most attacking side but was also our weakest side when defending. Thabo Matlaba didn't hold back, going forward at every opportunity but leaving a hole at the back. Angola tried to counter that by attacking down that side more, so as to keep Matlaba at bay. It was working but our defence stood firm and dealt with everything that was thrown at them. Mashaba made two changes before the hour mark, bringing on Serero and Vilikasi and this seemed to spur Bafana on. Matlaba's attacking persistence paid off when he combined well with Masango, who put in a cross that met Hlatswayo, who knocked it back against Manucho Diniz for an own goal.
Bafana now 4-1 on aggregate looked like it was all done and dusted. There was still a lot of the game still to play and Angola kept at it, trying long range shots but with no success. They did, however, get another bite at the cherry in the dying minute after Mabokgwane misjudged another cross, but fortunately the header went over the bar. There was also a rare opportunity given to Kamehelo Mokotjo who came on in the 79 minute to kill the game off.
It was a comfortable win over the two legs for Bafana but Angola might feel they should have done a bit better, especially with all the missed opportunities in Durban. For Mashaba and his boys it's another step closer to qualifying and we now wait to see who they will meet next.
Brent Carelse is a former Bafana Bafana international and played his domestic football for, among others, Ajax Cape Town, Mamelodi Sundowns and Superport United, where he won back-to-back league titles.
He'll be sharing his football opinions regularly on ewn.co.za. Follow him on Twitter: @brentcarelse