South Africa defeat Zimbabwe to go joint top of Group C

South Africa defeat Zimbabwe to go joint top of Group C
Iqraam Rayners of South Africa celebrates goal during FIFA World Cup Qualifiers 2026 match between South Africa and Zimbabwe at Free State Stadium on the 11 June 2024 in Bloemfontein © Sydney Mahlangu/BackpagePix

by Graeme Jackson

Tuesday Jun 11, 2024. 20:01

South Africa defeated Zimbabwe 3-1 at the Free State Stadium in Bloemfontein on Tuesday night to go joint top of Group C in Africa’s 2026 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers.

Thapelo Morena scored a second-half brace as a substitute to see Bafana Bafana to their second win, which brought them level on seven points with Rwanda and Benin at the top of the standings. The Warriors, meanwhile, remain winless in the six-team group and are placed last on two points.

The match got off to a thrilling start, with a goal at each end inside the opening two minutes. South Africa claimed the lead with about 30 seconds on the clock after Iqraam Rayners capitalised on a poor give-away from Munashe Garananga and calmly finished with his right foot.

Yet Zimbabwe hit back just over a minute later, as Tawanda Chirewa sliced through the defence on the right of the penalty area and stabbed a low shot past the left hand of Ronwen Williams for 1-1.

The hosts went on to dominate possession and created several promising openings in the first 20 minutes, including a powerful drive from Oswin Appollis which forced a fine save from goalkeeper Geofrey Chitsumba.

Zimbabwe offered only a sporadic threat, though Williams was forced into a sharp save at his near post in the 36th minute when Chirewa again broke free down the right of the penalty area.

Bafana Bafana dialled up the pressure in the final minutes of the first half, with Rayners finding the back of the net – only to have his effort ruled out for an offside in the build-up – while Teboho Mokoena had a shot deflected just wide of the mark.

Rayners also had a curling shot tipped over the bar by Chitsumba in the 42nd minute, and forced another save from the ‘keeper with a header from the subsequent corner kick, but the half closed with the score still 1-1.

South Africa made a change at the start of the second half, introducing Thapelo Morena in place of Elias Mokwana, and they claimed the lead via the substitute in the 55th minute, as he turned home a loose ball at close range after Chitsumba fumbled Appollis’s cross from the left.

And just over 20 minutes later Morena scored a second to stretch the lead to 3-1. Teboho Mokoena played a sublime pass to put Morena through on goal, and he rounded Chitsumba before stroking it into an empty net.

The hosts should have added to their lead with another chance created by Mokoena, but Appollis saw his scuffed shot easily saved. Yet Bafana Bafana were able to see out the game comfortably and collect an important three points in their ambitions of reaching the 2026 World Cup.

South Africa (1) 3 (I. Rayners 1’, T. Morena 55’ 76’)

Zimbabwe (1) 1 (T. Chirewa 2’)

SA: R. Williams, K. Mudau, M. Mvala, S. Ngezana, A. Modiba, K. Sithole, T. Mokoena, T. Zwane, O. Appollis (R. Mofokeng 90+3’), E. Mokwana (T. Morena 46’), I. Rayners

Zimbabwe: G. Chitsumba, M. Garananga, D. Lunga, M. Munetsi, A. Rinomhota (T. Rushesha 90+1’) G. Murwira, T. Chirewa (T. Maswanhise 90+3’), R. Hachiro, G. Takwara, W. Musona (T. Machope 90’), D. Mapfumo (D. Msendami 46’)

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