Hosts South Africa and debutants Cape Verde joined title favorites Ivory Coast in the Africa Cup of Nations quarter-finals after a dramatic climax to Group A on Sunday.
Bafana Bafana owed their 2-2 draw with Morocco in Durban 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 at a packed Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban, but May Mahlangu and Siyabonga 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 the tournament. “Morocco were a very tough team. I do not want to point out mistakes, but we conceded two goals we should not have. 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 honor. I am satisfied, as we did not lose a game and the tournament was a positive one for me.”
Cape Verde, who eliminated four-time champions Cameroon en route to a first appearance at the African showcase, beat Angola 2-1 at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth to continue a fairy-tale run.
Angola led at halftime after Cape Verde captain Nando conceded an own-goal and Fernando Varela leveled nine minutes from time to set up a thrilling finish in the first Africa Cup of Nations clash between two Portuguese-speaking nations.
Heldon netted the winner a minute into stoppage-time, slamming a rebound into the net after Angola goalkeeper Lama found a shot too hot to handle and could only push it into the path of the Portugal-based striker.
“My team and I dedicate this victory to the wonderful people of the Cape Verde Islands,” coach Luis Antunes said. “Our objective at this tournament has been achieved. We wanted to reach the quarter-finals.”
Angola coach Gustavo Ferrin said the first goal his team conceded proved decisive.
“We had no option then but to attack in search of a winner and left ourselves open at the back,” Ferrin said.
South Africa and Cape Verde collected five points each from one win and two draws apiece in the group phase of the 23-day tournament, with the hosts topping the table on goal-difference.
Morocco, making a fourth consecutive first-round exit since coming second behind 2004 hosts Tunisia, ended with three points from three draws and Angola gained a solitary point after a draw and two losses.
Ivory Coast, favorites for the fifth Cup of Nations in a row, but seeking a first title since 1992, were the first team into the quarter-finals after a couple of late goals completed a 3-0 win over Tunisia on Saturday.
Among the teams hoping to join them in the quarter-finals are defending champions Zambia, who trail shock Group C pacesetters Burkina Faso going into a final-round clash between the nations in Nelspruit today.
Finishing top of Group A means South Africa stay in Durban on Saturday for a fixture against the Group B runners-up, probably Mali or the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Cape Verde remain in Port Elizabeth to face the Group B winners — most likely four-time champions Ghana — earlier the same day, while Ivory Coast confront the Group C runners-up in Rustenburg 24 hours later.