South Africa outwit Egypt to reach last eight at Africa Cup of Nations
South Africa coach Stuart Baxter hailed his players for their tactical discipline after they engineered the biggest shock of the 2019 Cup of Nations with a 1-0 defeat of the hosts Egypt in front of more than 70,000 partisans.
Thembinkosi Lorch scored the winner in the 85th minute. He ran on to Lebo Mothiba's through ball and slotted past the Egypt goalkeeper Mohmed ElShenawy to slience the Cairo International Stadium.
The faithful found their voice for the closing minutes in a frenzied bid to rally their heroes. But the cacophony was to no avail. South Africa dug in for victory.
“My players had to play in a very brave way,” said Baxter. “They had to press high against a good Egypt team. But that as the only way we could win the game because if we allowed them to build possession and get the ball into their best players, then we would have massive problems.”
There were scares for South Africa. Mo Salah twice teed up teammates who were through on goal but failed to hit the target.
Egypt, who won Group A without conceding a goal in their three victories, were expected to ease past a South Africa side who reached the last 16 as one of the four best third-placed teams following a win over Namibia and defeats to Cote d'Ivoire and Morocco.
But South Africa made light of those group stage performances with a pulsating display of attacking flair and defensive grit.
Skipper Thulani Hlatshwayo and Innocent Mkhize snuffed out Salah while Egypt's other strikers failed to show sufficient menace.
“It was difficult for my front players,” Baxter added. “Because I asked them to press high and screen Egypt's through passes into their midfield players and the strikers. It was a difficult job but they did it very well.
“Often you hear that southern African players can't be tactically smart and northern African players are better ... but my players showed us a masterclass. They were excellent.”
South Africa were applauded off the field by the crestfallen Egypt fans. “That was something special,” said South Africa midfielder Dean Furman. "And it will be something we'll always remember.”
South Africa will take on Nigeria on 10 July at the Cairo International Stadium for a place in the semi-final.
“We were really disappointed in the group stages that we didn't show our attacking flair,” Furman added. “Our front play was excellent but we don't want to get too excited, we've got another tough game in a few days but we should take a lot of confidence from the match against Egypt.”