15 June 2009
A lively crowd packed Johannesburg’s Ellis Park for the opening match of the 2009 Fifa Confederations Cup, their plentiful vuvuzelas welcoming the world to a South African football experience. The goal-feast they were hoping for wasn’t forthcoming, however, as South Africa and Iraq played to a goalless draw.
Bafana Bafana did most of the pressing but, with Iraq defending in numbers, the passing in the final third of the field was often off target.
And when South Africa did pry open the Iraqi defence – with only six minutes of regulation time left – luck was not with Joel Santana’s charges. Kagiso Dikgacio’s header was goalbound, with the goalkeeper beaten, only to hit striker Bernard Parker, who ran into the way of the ball for an “own save” he won’t forget in a hurry.
‘I just wanted to drop dead’
“When the ball hit me, I just wanted to drop dead on the spot. It happens. It’s football,” Parker said afterwards.
Iraq managed only one shot on goal in the game, which underlines just how much emphasis the Asian champions placed on getting defenders behind the ball.
Thembinkosi “Terror” Fanteni picked up a yellow card in only the second minute of the match, evidence of the nervousness of the hosts, who were feeling the pressure of living up to the fans’ expectations on home soil.
Iraq’s sole shot of the game followed shortly after that. In the more than 85 minutes that remained, they failed to test SA goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune.
It looked as if Bafana Bafana might create something after 10 minutes when Fareed Majeed was caught in possession. Parker’s left-footed shot from outside the box was, however, tame and easily gathered by goalkeeper Mohammed Kassid.
Sibaya lets rip
South Africa’s best moment of the half came three minutes later when Siboniso Gaxa picked out MacBeth Sibaya on the right. On the run, Sibaya let rip with a shot across the face of goal. Kassid got his fingertips to the ball and steered it wide of the right hand post for a Bafana Bafana corner.
The rest of the half played out in what became a familiar pattern as South Africa attacked, pushed Iraq deep into their half, and then seemed to run out of ideas, hoping that one-touch passes would find a way through the Iraqi defence.
Shortly after the restart, Fanteni set up Parker for a shot on goal, but his effort, from an angle, was straight at Kassid in the Iraqi goal. Fanteni was then narrowly wide with a header from a corner.
Mashego comes close
Santana sent on Orlando Pirates’ marksman Katlego Mashego, and his change was almost immediately rewarded, but Kassid denied Mashego in a one-on-one.
Parker was denied by the Iraqi netminder, and then his block of Dikgacoi’s header followed.
Steven Pienaar, who came on as a substitute with only five minutes remaining, after having been ill in the lead-up to the contest, admitted to being disappointed by the outcome.
He said Bafana Bafana had expected to win the game, and having shared the points means the pressure is now on South Africa.
Coach Santana said he was not satisfied with the outcome. He had expected Iraq to show more attacking intent, but instead found, he said, that were trying only to capitalise on South African mistakes and looking for free kicks.
Spain thrash New Zealand
The size of the challenge awaiting the hosts in their remaining two matches was made clear in the opening day’s second match between world number one Spain and New Zealand in Rustenburg. The European champions were in scintillating form, crushing the All Whites 5-0.
Liverpool striker Fernando Torres decided the outcome of the match with the fastest hat-trick in the history of the Confederations Cup, netting in the sixth, 14th and 17th minutes to set Spain on their way to their 33rd match on the trot without defeat.
Cesc Fabregas added a fourth only four minutes later, and the rout was well and truly on.
The Kiwis showed some heart and fought back to share possession, but a blunder just after half-time by defender Andy Boyens, who missed the ball while trying to clear, left striker David Villa with a simple tap-in for Spain’s fifth goal.
With a record lead as Fifa’s number one ranked team, Spain are looking like the team to beat in South Africa.
Would you like to use this article in your publication or on your website? See: Using SAinfo material