Bafana stay in the Confed hunt

18 June 2009

Bafana Bafana’s second Confederations Cup match in Rustenburg on Wednesday evening was a must-win affair after a goalless draw against Iraq in their opening game. The team responded to the challenge, beating New Zealand 2-0.

Striker Bernard Parker, who prevented a South African goal against Iraq by running into the path of a goal-bound header, was the hero this time, netting both goals.

Steven Pienaar, who missed the match against Iraq after struggling with illness, was the only change from the side that drew with the Asian champions, but he was a significant addition to the Bafana team on Wednesday night. Pulling the strings in midfield, he delivered an assured and commanding performance to set the Kiwis on the back foot.

Effective attacking combination

His combination with left-back Tsepo Masilela proved to be among Bafana’s most effective attacking options; the Maccabi Haifa defender was responsible for setting up Parker for both goals.

Afterwards, Pienaar lamented the opportunities South Africa missed out on. While the team’s performance was impressive, they could have won by a far greater margin; a number of commentators suggested that it could have been nearer double figures!

Defender Matthew Booth echoed Pienaar’s thoughts, saying that despite the victory over New Zealand, a win against Spain would be necessary in Bafana’s next game.

Matters tight

Booth was overstating the case, but his statement indicates just how tight matters could be after the Spanish managed only a 1-0 win against Iraq, thanks to a David Villa goal.

Spain is already guaranteed a place in the semi-finals after two victories. They’re on six points. South Africa is in second place on four points, followed by Iraq with one, and New Zealand is out of the running without a point after two contests.

If, as expected, world number one Spain gets the better of South Africa in their meeting, and if Iraq beats New Zealand, then goal difference will come into play. At present, Bafana Bafana’s goal difference is plus-two, while Iraq’s is minus-one. There is little wiggle room, and a poor result will mean SA will miss the semi-finals.

Beating Spain?

Truthfully, it’s hard to see Bafana doing better than a draw against the Spanish, whose lead at the top of the Fifa World Rankings is the biggest by a number one since the rankings began in 1993. The European champions’ win over Iraq marked their 14th victory in succession, equalling the record held by Australia, Brazil and France.

South Africa’s coach Joel Santana praised his team after their victory against the All Whites, complimenting all three aspects of his side’s play: defensively, offensively, and in midfield. He said they had played a “beautiful game”, but he too bemoaned Bafana’s missed opportunities in front of goal.

Early on, in the second minute, Terror Fanteni was wasteful in front of goal when he completely missed a superb cross from Teko Modise with the goalmouth, just five metres away, beckoning.

Goal

South Africa continued to do the pressing, however, and after 21 minutes they were rewarded for their efforts. Masilela, on the left, knifed through the All Whites’ defence before delivering an inviting cross for Parker. The striker took his chance, putting Bafana in the lead, to the roar of the Rustenburg crowd.

Parker came close to netting a second 11 minutes later. After a long run he opted to shoot, despite having an unmarked Siboniso Gaxa on his outside. New Zealand goalkeeper Glen Moss thwarted the striker, sticking out a foot to deflect the ball wide of the goal.

The home team went into the break leading 1-0. While the lead was welcome, it could have been larger. However, Bafana didn’t have to wait too long to increase their advantage.

Second goal

Seven minutes into the second stanza, Masilela again laid on a chance for Parker after some nice passing in midfield. Parker once more made good use of the opportunity, and South Africa led 2-0.

Parker was then denied his third when Moss saved his header from a Teko Modise free kick.

With 83 minutes played, coach Santana substituted Parker, who received a standing ovation from the happy crowd.

His replacement, Katlego Mashego, could have made an almost immediate impact, but within the space of a few minutes he missed out on three excellent scoring opportunities.

Not long after that, the final whistle sounded and the the fans went home in a good mood after a 2-0 win.

But the question remains: was it a big enough victory? The answer will be provided on Saturday, 20 June when Bafana Bafana face Spain in Bloemfontein, and Iraq takes on New Zealand in Johannesburg.

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