JOHANNESBURG, South Africa, January 28 – Hosts South Africa and debutants Cape Verde joined title favourites Ivory Coast in the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations quarter-finals after a dramatic Group A climax Sunday.
Bafana Bafana (The Boys) owed a 2-2 draw with Morocco in Durban to several superb saves by goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune and a never-say-die spirit as they came from behind twice to reach the last eight for the first time in 11 years.
Issam El Adoua and substitute Abdelilah Hafidi put the Atlas Lions ahead early in the first half and late in the second at a packed Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban, but May Mahlangu and Siyabonga Sangweni scored to salvage a point.
“We feel very, very proud to have achieved our first objective. I must thank the players and the fans,” said South Africa coach Gordon Igesund, who had only five months and seven matches to prepare for this tournament.
“Morocco were a very tough team. I do not want to point out mistakes, but we conceded two goals we should not have. There are now two games to the final and I believe in my players.”
Rival coach Rachid Taoussi said: “I am very disappointed with the result, but we fought with dignity and honour. I am satisfied as we did not lose a game and the tournament was a positve one for me.”
Cape Verde, who eliminated four-time champions Cameroon en route to a first appearance at the African football showcase, beat Angola 2-1 at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth to continue a fairy-tale run.
Angola led at half-time after Cape Verde captain Nando conceded an own goal and Fernando Varela levelled nine minutes from time to set up a thrilling finish in the first Africa Cup clash between two Portuguese-speaking nations.
Heldon netted the winner a minute into stoppage time, slamming a rebound into the net after Angola goalkeeper Lama found a shot too hot to handle and could only push it into the parth of the Portugal-based striker.
“My team and I dedicate this victory to the wonderful people of the Cape Verde Islands,” said coach Luis Antunes. “Our objective at this tournament has been achieved. We wanted to reach the quarter-finals.”
Angola coach Gustavo Ferrin said the first goal his team conceded proved decisive: “We had no option then but to attack in search of a winner and left ourselves open at the back.”
South Africa and Cape Verde collected five points each from one win and two draws apiece in the mini-league first phase of the 23-day tournament with the hosts topping the table on goal difference.
Morocco, making a fourth consecutive first round exit since coming second behind 2004 hosts Tunisia, ended with three points from three draws and Angola gained a solitary point after a draw and two losses.
Ivory Coast, favourites for the fifth Cup of Nations in a row but seeking a first title since 1992, were the first team into the quarter-finals after a couple of late goals completed a 3-0 win over Tunisia Saturday.
Among the teams hoping to join them in the round of eight are defending champions Zambia, who trail shock Group C pacesetters Burkina Faso going into a final-round clash between the nations in Nelspruit Tuesday.
Finishing top of Group A means South Africa stay in Durban for a February 2 fixture against the Group B runners-up, probably Mali or the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Cape Verde remain in Port Elizabeth to face the Group B winners — most likely four-time champions Ghana — earlier the same day while Ivory Coast confront the Group C runners-up in Rustenburg 24 hours later.