Hosts South Africa, upstarts Cape Verde, Angola and former champions Morocco have all to play for going into the final round of Group A matches on Sunday at the Africa Cup of Nations.
Bafana Bafana won at the competition for the first time in nine years with Siyabonga Sangweni and Lehlohonolo Majoro scoring to deliver a 2-0 victory over Angola in Indian Ocean city Durban on Wednesday.
Debutants Cape Verde, the tiny 10-island state of 500,000 people off the Senegalese coast, led through a Platini goal against Morocco, until Youssef El Arabi salvaged a 1-1 draw with a late goal.
South Africa, much improved after a turgid showing in a goalless draw with Cape Verde last weekend, top the table with four points after two rounds. Cape Verde and Morocco have two each and Angola one.
On Sunday, Durban hosts South Africa and Morocco, while fellow Indian Ocean city Port Elizabeth stages Cape Verde against Angola — the first time in the 56-year history of the Cup of Nations that two Portuguese-speaking teams have met.
There are endless permutations, including a point being enough to ensure South Africa a place in the quarter-finals and Angola needing maximum points to have any hope of avoiding an early exit.
South Africa coach Gordon Igesund gambled at Moses Mabhida Stadium, making five changes from the first match, and it paid off with much better passing, movement on and off the ball and finishing.
Centerback Sangweni punished a poor attempted clearance by Lunguinha to drill the ball across giant goalkeeper Lama into the far corner and end a 315-minute goal drought.
Captain Manucho threatened to equalize twice before halftime and Itumeleng Khune reacted quickly to foil former Switzerland under-21 striker Guilhermo Afonso, before Majoro produced the killer blow.
Set free by a pass from fellow substitute Reneilwe Letsholonyane, Majoro atoned for a shocking showing against Cape Verde by fighting off attempts to dispossess him, before placing the ball between the legs of Lama.
“I gambled today because it was a must-win situation. We had four defenders, one holding midfielder and the other five players were committed to attacking,” Igesund said. “The players believed in themselves — the nerves that affected us so much against Cape Verde were gone.”
Angola coach Gustavo Ferrin said: “It was the same midfield that played against Morocco — unfortunately they could not serve Manucho. South Africa played very well.”
Morocco’s El Arabi, born in France and based in Spain, came on at halftime for Nordin Amrabat and his second-half contribution should see him start against South Africa.
Cape Verde, who owe a first Cup of Nations appearance to a shock 3-2 aggregate triumph over four-time champions Cameroon, were the better team throughout the first half and deservedly led through Platini.
When Karim El Ahmadi carelessly surrendered possession in midfield, Ryan Mendes burst down the middle and his perfectly timed pass was chipped into the net by the midfielder whose nickname honors former French star Michel Platini.
However, Morocco switched to overdrive with time ticking sway and after El Arabi leveled with a low shot past rarely tested Vozinho and the substitute nearly won the game with a header that flew just wide.
“We made another draw, but we are still alive. I am very happy with this result — a great one for our country. My players worked very well and proved they have qualities,” Cape Verde coach Luis Antunes said.
Morocco coach Rachid Taoussi said: “We did not underestimate our opponents, but we took time to adapt to their style and made individual mistakes in the first half. The second half was better and I have hope for the next game.”