Botswana star Jerome Ramatlhakwana scored 10 minutes from full-time to salvage a 1-1 draw for Vasco da Gama at Black Leopards on Wednesday in a South African Premiership promotion play-off.
|Adams and Ramagalela © Backpagepix
Captain Mongezi Bobe put South African FA Cup runners-up Leopards ahead from a 34th-minute penalty at Seshego Stadium in northern city Polokwane and Ramatlhakwana levelled soon after replacing Malawian Josephy Kamwendo.
The other semi-final, first leg match was also drawn with hosts Thanda Royal Zulu and Bay United failing to score in a drab game at coastal town Richards Bay north of Durban.
Vasco and Bay have home advantage in the return matches on Saturday and the winners advance to a two-leg decider next week with a place in the richest national football championship on the continent at stake.
Premiership clubs are guaranteed R12,6 million a year from a monthly grant funded by television rights and there are several other revenue-generating avenues available to the 16 participants.
Vasco were forced into the play-offs after finishing second last in the 2010-2011 Premiership season while Leopards, Thanda and Bay are second-tier clubs with previous top-flight experience.
Cape Town-based Vasco battled on a bumpy pitch despite touches of class from former South Africa star Sibusiso Zuma and Leopards had a goal disallowed before Breslyn Hempe handled a close-range shot to concede the penalty.
Zuma set up the equaliser by retaining possession near a corner flag before passing to Roberto Santo and his cross was met by Ramatlhakwana, whose header flew across the goal, past Azwindini Maphaha and in at the far post.
Botswana were the first qualifiers for the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea with five-goal Ramatlhakwana a key figure in the unexpected achievement.
Bay are guided by former Botswana coach Major David Bright and goalkeeper Modiri Marumo was another star in the Cup of Nations success of the 'Zebras', conceding just two goals in seven qualifiers.
Marumo was rarely tested by a blunt Thanda attack in which Siyabonga Pela was the chief culprit when it came to squandering chances and his second-half substitution drew cynical cheers from many spectators.
Port Elizabeth-based Bay were no better in cold, wet, windy conditions and the closest they came to breaking the deadlock was just before half-time when an inviting low cross eluded three attackers.