A brace from the impressive Ashley Nazira saw Mauritius claim a 2-2 draw in their 2019 COSAFA Cup Group A opener against Eswatini at the King Zwelithini Stadium on Saturday.
Eswatini scored their goals through Siboniso Mamba and the experiencedFelix Badenhorst, and had the better of the play, but could not turn their dominance into three points.
Mauritius led twice and although they had to weather a storm from their opponents, will feel they might have held on for what would have been a precious win.
After a cagey opening, Mauritius took the lead on 28 minutes through the lively Nazira, who beat the offside trap and with a clear run on goal, supplied a neat finish past Sandanezwe Mathabela in the Eswatini goal.
But the lead lasted only two minutes as Eswatini made a set-piece count when Mamba headed home from a corner, a simple goal that Mauritius will feel they should have defended better.
Eswatini pressed for the lead before halftime, but the teams went into the break level.
It was more of the same after the break as Kosta Papic’s side continued to make all of the running, but were hit by a sucker-punch with 20 minutes to go when Mauritius retook the lead.
Nazira grabbed his second as he turned home a low cross from the right as Eswatini allowed too much space on the flank.
He might have had his hat-trick shortly afterwards, side-footing over the bar with just the goalkeeper to beat.
But once again, the advantage was short-lived as Eswatini drew level again, Badenhorst providing the finish for his seventh career COSAFA Cup goal, and closing in on the all-time record of Zimbabwe’s Peter Ndlovu, who scored eight.
As it is he drew level with Mozambique legend Manuel ‘Tico-Tico’ Bucuane.
Eswatini continued to push forward in the closing stages and had a number of chances to grab a winner, but did not work the goalkeeper hard enough.
Badenhorst had the ball in the back of the net in the final minute of game, but the goal was correctly ruled out for offside.
The COSAFA Cup action continues on Sunday with a double-header in Group B as two matches are played at the King Zwelithini Stadium.
Mozambique and Namibia will kick-off at 14h00 (12h00 GMT) in what is an intriguing clash and a repeat of the 2015 final that was won by the Brave Warriors.
Both teams will believe they should make the next round, and so victory in this one would be a giant step towards achieving that.
The second match is between Malawi and Seychelles at 16h30 (14h30) and will be the test of the islanders’ recent improved displays that saw them draw with South Africa late last year.
Seychelles have still only ever won one match in the COSAFA Cup, but will feel they can add to that tally against The Flames.
Eswatini 2 (Mamba 30’, Badenhorst 73’) Mauritius 2 (Nazira 28’, 69’)
Mozambique vs Namibia (KO 14h00, 12h00 GMT) – King Zwelithini Stadium
Malawi vs Seychelles (KO 16h30 local, 14h30 GMT) – King Zwelithini Stadium
Group A P W D L GF GA Pts
Eswatini 1 0 1 0 2 2 1
Mauritius 1 0 1 0 2 2 1
Comoros 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Group B P W D L GF GA Pts
Malawi 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Mozambique 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Namibia 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Seychelles 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Matches Played: 1
Goals scored: 4
Biggest victory: –
Most goals in a game: 4 – Eswatini 2 Mauritius 2 (Group A, May 25)
2 goals – Ashley Nazira (Mauritius)
1 –Felix Badenhorst (Eswatini), Siboniso Mamba (Eswatini)