Still mourning the death of their goalkeeper and captain Senzo Meyiwa who was murdered three weeks ago, South Africa showed determination and resolve in defeating Sudan 2-1 at home to advance to next year’s Africa Cup of Nations finals.
The match was switched to the deceased hometown of Durban as a tribute to Meyiwa, who led South Africa in its first four qualifiers without conceding a goal.
South Africa’s return to the Nations Cup finals after six years was welcomed by the country’s all-time leading scorer, Benni McCarthy, who retired two years ago with 32 goals in 80 internationals.
“It was amazing that they are able to qualify for the African Nations Cup and to qualify for the memory of Senzo Meyiwa,” he said. “A tragedy like that can always be (an) inspiration for the team and the nation. They should go to the finals and win in his honour. He will be our guardian angel. He will be watching over the boys at the finals.”
New goalkeeper, Darren Keet, dedicated the win to his predecessor.
“He was a great friend of mine,” said the 25-year-old. “I just want to pay tribute and honour him. I hope he’s watching us from above and knows that we are thinking about him. I just wish he was here with us. We want him here as a team, but unfortunately his time has gone and we have to move on and his memory will stay strong.”
South Africa played its final group match against Nigeria yesterday.
After a slow start, Nigeria kept its hopes alive of advancing with a 2-0 victory over Congo.
Four-time champions Cameroon booked its spot with a 1-0 victory over the Republic of Congo and 2012 champions Zambia is back in the finals after shutting out Mozambique 1-0.
Cape Verde, Algeria, Tunisia, Senegal, Congo and Burkina Faso have also qualified for the finals.
The remaining six finalists will be determined after yesterday’s final group of qualifiers.
Meanwhile, Equatorial Guinea has replaced Morocco as the host country of the regional soccer tournament, to be played from January 17 to February 8.
Morocco pulled out because of concerns over the spread of the outbreak of the Ebola virus.
While supporting Morocco’s decision, Dr. Kofi Amoah, who organized the 2008 tournament in Ghana, doesn’t believe Equatorial Guinea has enough time to prepare to host the 16-team finals.
“It could be a sham,” he said. “It could become a disgrace to African soccer. Sixty to 70 days will not be adequate for most countries. There is a lot of stuff like accreditation systems and security which are very important. Without that, it will be a mess.”
Equatorial Guinea co-hosted the tournament with Gabon two years ago.
The tournament will be played at four venues across the country, including Malabo, where the draw for the finals takes place on December 3.