Bafana show they’ve got what it takes

26 June 2009

South Africa and Brazil dished up an entertaining clash in the semifinals of the Fifa Confederations Cup at Ellis Park Stadium in Johannesburg on Thursday night. Bafana Bafana didn’t take a step back against their more illustrious opponents, and Brazil needed a late goal to snatch a place in Sunday’s final against the USA.

It was a very impressive performance from South Africa, who looked like they belonged on the field with A Seleçao, as the Brazilians are known.

The strong showing from Bafana Bafana will have allayed the fears of some that the team will struggle at next year’s Fifa World Cup; against Brazil, the South Africans looked like a top tier team.

Some of the stars of the world’s fifth-ranked side found the going tough against Bafana. Benson Mhlongo did a superb job keeping Kaka, the 2007 Fifa World Player of the Year, in check, while Robinho was ineffective out on the left.

World class

Steven Pienaar, in the South African midfield, proved once again that he is a world-class talent, while 22-year-old SA goalie Itumeleng Khune played with far more maturity and assuredness that one would expect from such a young man.

Most impressive, however, was the teamwork and high workrate of the South African team, who were clearly undaunted by facing the mighty Brazilians, and were determined to follow in the steps of the USA, who had shocked world number one Spain the night before.

Afterwards, coach Joel Santana declared himself “very happy with Bafana Bafana”. The crowd, despite the disappointment of the loss, clearly agreed with him that the national team had produced a great and entertaining effort.

Thanked supporters

Santana thanked the supporters and his team, who he said worked very hard in training and showed good discipline on the field.

Bafana Bafana made a positive start to the contest, holding onto possession nicely as both teams tried to find their rhythm.

It took until the 12th minute for the first shot to be taken. Fabiano tested Khune, who stopped the ball comfortably, low to his left.

A minute later, Bernard Parker fired off South Africa’s first shot. It flashed across goalkeeper Julio Cesar and wide of the net-minder’s right hand upright.

Between the tenth and twentieth minutes it looked as if Brazil had found some fluency in their passing as Bafana’s deep defending gave them room to operate in, but South Africa weren’t standing back for their highly-rated opponents and were giving as good as they got, especially in the midfield.

Oh so close

In the 21st minute captain Aaron Mokoena came oh so close to giving his team the lead. A free kick picked him up, steaming through from defence, five metres from the Brazilian goals and just left of the upright. He couldn’t keep his header down enough, however, and his effort flew just over the top of the crossbar.

After 28 minutes, SA were awarded another free kick for a foul by Lusiao on Parker just outside the Brazilian box. Siphiwe Tshabala struck the ball well, but his shot was too straight and Cesar palmed it away for a Bafana corner.

Three minutes later, Sibuniso Gaxa intercepted a pass to break up an attack by the South Americans. He found Teko Modise in space on the right, but the midfielder scuffed his shot, dragging it across the goalmouth.

A Brazilian attack shortly afterwards saw Andre Santos firing a powerful left-footed volley from outside the South African box, but SA goalie Itumeleng Khune saved comfortably to his left.

Kaka on the charge

Kaka then showed how dangerous he could be when, after picking up a pass on the left, he cut inside and shot. His effort scraped past Khune’s left-hand post.

Five minutes later, the newly-signed Real Madrid man was again on the attack. Breaking out from deep after a South African offensive was halted, he shot low to the goalkeeper’s left, but Khune was up to the challenge.

A minute after that, Steven Pienaar shaved Cesar’s right hand post with a super strike from long range that left the midfield ace holding his head in his hands.

Tsepo Masilela then picked up a yellow card just before the break after a late tackle on Andre Santos.

Half-time

At half-time it was nil-nil. Possession favoured Brazil, but only by 51% to 49%. The teams had produced an equal number of shots on goal.

Two minutes into the second half, Robinho blasted harmlessly over the top of the South African goal from 30 metres, his shot like so many of Brazil’s on the night coming from long range.

Kaka then managed to round Mokoena on the left, but his low, centering cross was cut out by Pienaar.

After 58 minutes, some sharp passing by the South African midfielders created some space for Modise just outside the Brazilian box. He shot to the right of Cesar, but his shot was deflected back to the left. The goalkeeper scrambled across to make the save, but the ball hit the post and went behind for a corner.

Santos was shown a yellow card after an hour when he stopped a promising South African counter-attack with a foul on Modise.

Denied

Luis Fabiano was then denied by Khune after a shot from the right hand corner of the box, as the SA goalkeeper continued to look assured and convincing.

In the 73rd minute, Siphiwe Tshabalala created some space for himself on the left and his cross passed only centimeters over the head of Parker, who was 10 metres from goal in the middle of the field.

With eight minutes to go, the first substitution of the contest was made with Daniel Alves replacing Andre Santos.

Goal

Five minutes later, Alves was entrusted with the ball after SA skipper Mokoena fouled Ramires on the edge of the Bafana area. Alves then picked out the only open area with his shot, striking it powerfully inside the left hand post – just – and into the side netting to put Brazil into the lead.

South African coach Joel Santana responded with a few substitutions, but it was too late to turn the result around and the five-time World Cup winners progressed to the title decider.

South Africa next face Spain in the playoff for third and fourth in Rustenburg on Sunday. The United States and Brazil will meet in Johannesburg on the same day for the title.

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