Morena's double puts Bafana on World Cup track

DR Congo's midfielder Samuel Moutoussamy
DR Congo's midfielder #8 Samuel Moutoussamy fights for the ball with South Africa's defender #23 Thapelo Morena during the Africa Cup of Nations (CAN) 2024 third place play-off football match between South Africa and Democratic Republic of Congo at Felix Houphouet-Boigny Stadium in Abidjan on February 10, 2024.

Powered by the sprightly crowd that filled up the stadium to rafters in the traditionally football-crazy city of Bloemfontein, Bafana Bafana turned the heat on Zimbabwe by outwitting them 3-1 on a cold night at Free State Stadium last night.

Thapelo Morena came off the bench to net a brilliant brace, adding to Iqraam Rayners's early goal. The win massively boosted Bafana's dream to qualify for the 2026 World Cup as they are now second in Group C of the qualifiers on seven points, level with leaders Rwanda, who have a better goal difference.

Scoring one of Bafana's fastest goals ever, Rayners pounced on a loose ball after Zimbabwe defender Munashe Garananga failed to pull the ball back with his studs, picking the spot from a close range to beat hapless goalkeeper Godfrey Chitsumba just 30 seconds into the game.

Bafana's early lead was short-lived as the Warriors restored parity via 20-year-old Tawanda Chirewa a few seconds later. Chirewa collected a ball from a throw-in, slicing through Siphephelo Sithole and Teboho Mokoena before nicely utilising the outside his boot to beat Ronwen Williams.

The tempo of the game was high for the better part of the first half, with Bafana creating more chances. Chitsumba made a few great saves to deny the likes of Oswin Appolis and Rayners. Chirewa menaced Bafana as well, forcing Williams to make several saves. The Wolverhampton Wanderers player didn't only unleash shots that tested Williams but he was also the visitors' main threat.

Morena was introduced for Elias Mokwana at the start of the second stanza. He had an immediate impact, scoring Bafana's second goal of the night, a tap-in, that came from Appolis's well-calculated low-driven cross five minutes before the hour mark. Morena also helped Khuliso Mudau in closing down Chirewa, and the starlet had little joy in the second half.

Morena would complete his brace in fine style when he used his blistering speed to collect a nicely-laid long ball by Mokoena to round off Chitsumba before passing into an empty net in the 76th minute.

Zimbabwe hardly had any box entries in the second half as Bafana forced them to defend deep. Bafana midfield twins of Sithole and Mokoena played very close to each other in the second stanza, a thing they struggled with in the first period.

Appolis replacing an injured Percy Tau was the only change in Bafana Bafana starting XI from the previous game, a 1-all draw against Nigeria in Uyo last Friday.

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