South Africa has cemented top spot in group G of the CAF 2022 World Cup qualifiers after a 1-0 win over Zimbabwe at FNB Stadium.
The three points were secured thanks to a first-half goal from Teboho Mokoena.
Going into the game, Bafana Bafana had seen nearest rivals Ghana drop points as they drew 1-1 with Ethiopia in the penultimate qualifier.
It was a slow start to the game in Soweto, with the only action in the opening 10 minutes being the injury concern around Mokoena, who seemed in distress after a rough challenge to his ankle.
Having found his feet, Keagan Dolly began to run the show as his well-timed pass gifted Bongakuhle Hlongwane a chance to score but he couldn’t connect.
Dolly then crossed a dangerous ball into the box in the 13th minute but Petros Mhari smothered the effort.
Zimbabwe’s best effort of the half came in the 19th minute as a Khama Billiat pass gifted David Moyo a chance to score while he was one-on-one with Ronwen Williams but his indecisiveness saw the chance come to nothing.
They were made to pay for that less than 10 minutes later as some clever play to move the ball from the back into their attacking box saw Mokoena handed the chance to give SA the lead, which he didn’t hesitate on.
The clear-cut chances would be hard to come by after that strike and the teams went into the break with Bafana leading 1-0.
It was a much different start to the second half, with the visitors having a larger share of ball possession. They almost made it count in the 50th as Billiat danced his way around Bafana’s defence and laid the ball up on a plate for Blessing Sarupinda, but the number eight somehow blasted his effort over the bar just metres from goal.
South Africa began to fight back in the 63rd minute.
Substitute Fagrie Lakay laid the ball to Dolly, whose long-range effort was tipped over by Mhari.
Then the Zimbabwe goalkeeper was called into action from the subsequent corner as he also had to tip over Hlongwane’s header.
With a final qualifier versus Ghana on Tuesday, there will be concern around Percy Tau, who after a quiet game, limped off while being subbed out for Ethan Brooks after slipping during an attempted counterattack.
Hlongwane should have ended the game with a brace but first, his header in the 84th minute went wide and then in the 90th minute, Mhari saved his close-range effort.
South Africa was barely troubled after that as they saw off the game to claim a fourth win a row, which moved them to 13 points at the top of their group.
They now take a three-point lead into the final qualifier against the Black Stars on Sunday knowing if they don’t lose that game, they progress to the CAF playoffs.
The top ten group winners will face each other in home and away leg ties to decide who will be the continent’s five representatives in Qatar.© EWN Sport