Bafana slip up in World Cup group C with shock defeat away to Rwanda

21 November 2023 - 17:21
By Marc Strydom
Bafana Bafana's Percy Tau challenges Emmanuel Imanishimwe of Rwanda in their 2026 Fifa World Cup group C qualifier at Stade Huye in Butare, Rwanda, on Tuesday.
Image: Julius Ntare/BackpagePix Bafana Bafana's Percy Tau challenges Emmanuel Imanishimwe of Rwanda in their 2026 Fifa World Cup group C qualifier at Stade Huye in Butare, Rwanda, on Tuesday.

Bafana Bafana blew an excellent chance to take control of 2026 World Cup qualifying group C with a dishevelled performance, leading to a 2-0 shock defeat at the hands of Rwanda at Stade Huye in Butare on Tuesday.

Nigeria's meltdown at the start of the campaign — drawing at home to tiny Lesotho and away against Zimbabwe — has left group C wide open. But if Bafana want to be the side to capitalise on that, they need far more convincing performances than the poor display served up on the tricky, puddled synthetic surface of the tiny 10,000-seat ground in Rwanda.

Hugo Broos's South Africans sunk to their first defeat in a front-line match — outside the Cosafa Cup or Chan — in a year and five months since their 2-1 Africa Cup of Nations qualifying loss against Morocco in Rabat on June 9 2022.

Against the world's 140th-ranked team, who had won one game in their last 14, Bafana seemed surprised by the Rwandans' strong running out of the blocks.

The South African defence seemed undercooked, as it allowed soft goals by Innocent Nshuti in the 12th minute and Gilbert Mugisha in the 28th.

It seemed a notable slip-up from the South Africans. Even if the synthetic pitch — Broos complained it is about 20 years old, has uneven bounce and would be a leveller — was wet, making a passing game impractical, a draw would have left Bafana in a stronger position in the group.

Rwanda went to four points and the lead. Bafana have three in second place. Nigeria, Lesotho and Zimbabwe all have two.

All the other sides playing to draws at the start — including Lesotho and Benin in Durban on Tuesday (0-0) — leaves Bafana still in a decent position. But if Nigeria get their house in order, they will lick their lips at the prospect of many — by their standards — easy games to come, including two against the Super Eagles' daily bread, South Africa. 

The winners of the nine groups progress to the first 48-team World Cup. The four best runners-up go into a playoff to decide one that will contest an inter-confederation playoff.

Bafana found themselves two goals down inside a torrid opening half-hour.

The South Africans will need to do something, whether through the right personnel or coaching, about a central defence that even in their unbeaten period has continued to look brittle.

The visitors battled with Rwanda’s route-one balls and direct running early on.

Ten minutes in, right-back Fitina Omborenga’s cross from deep found the run on the far side of forward Mugisha to control and shoot into the side netting.

Moments later, strapping centre-forward Nshuti won a challenge for a bouncing ball on the edge of the area with Nkosinathi Sibisi to canter through and finish past Ronwen Williams.

Just before the half-hour, Mushiga beat Khuliso Mudau on South Africa’s right. The Mamelodi Sundowns man recovered but tried to shield the ball for Williams to collect. The keeper did not come, allowing Mushiga to slot a second.

Even as Bafana settled and won more possession, they battled to control the ball and complete passes on a surface where the delivery held up in the wet.

The South Africans attempted to get their two good attacking fullbacks up the field from the start of the second half. But it was Rwanda who continued to test Williams, such as when midfielder Djihad Bizimana took a few strides into the right corner of the area and struck powerfully.

Bafana's best attacking move came with 12 minutes remaining. Teboho Mokoena passed to Mihlali Mayambela on the right to cut a ball to Themba Zwane inside the box, who blasted over.