Portugal outplay disappointing Bafana

1 April 2009

Carlos Quieroz was fired as coach of Bafana Bafana in 2002, so he must have felt a quiet satisfaction when the team he now coaches beat South Africa 2-0 in Lausanne on Tuesday evening.

Bafana had beaten Norway 1-0 in Rustenburg on Saturday, but that was only the side’s sixth win in 27 matches against European opposition. Afterwards, in the lead-up to the game against the Portuguese, coach Joel Santana and his players made all the right noises but, given SA’s less than stellar record against European teams, the chances of a second win in four days was remote, especially against the country ranked tenth in the Fifa World Rankings.

Nonetheless, the defeat in Switzerland was disappointing as South Africa meekly surrendered to a Portugal team that started with star players Cristiano Ronaldo and Simao on the bench.

Early goal

Their introduction into the game hadn’t even been considered when the Portuguese took an early lead from a soft goal. South African goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune misjudged a corner kick and Bruno Alves made Bafana Bafana pay by heading home after only four minutes.

Seemingly stunned, South Africa remained on the back foot as Portugal made all the early play, forcing one corner after another.

SA coach Joel Santana had opted for a single striker, unlike his tactical approach against Norway when he used two strikers. That meant Red Star Belgrade marksman Bernard Parker was given the tough job of operating alone up front.

Although he was generally well marshalled by the Portuguese defence, he managed a strong early shot to test the goalkeeper and another that passed just wide of the mark.

It was 1-0 to Portugal at the break, but they had been much the better team, dictating play throughout the opening stanza.

Second goal

It wasn’t a surprise, therefore, when the Portuguese doubled their lead just before the hour-mark. Once more the goal came from a corner.

Chelsea midfielder Deco was again the provider for AEK Athens striker Edinho, who met the ball with his left foot at the far post to score and expose South Africa’s fragility at set-pieces for the second time in the contest; nobody had picked him up.

With the game all but won after the second goal went in, Quieroz introduced three substitutes, including Ronaldo.

With his team two goals down and playing second fiddle, Santana rang the changes for a different reason. He was hoping to salvage something from the game. Portugal offered nothing and ran out comfortable 2-0 winners.

Plenty of work needed

With the Confederations Cup fast approaching – it takes place from 14 to 28 June in South Africa – Santana still has plenty of work to do with Bafana Bafana. Not for the first time, the team seemed to freeze when confronted with a highly ranked team.

In the Confederations Cup, South Africa will face Spain, the European champions and runaway leaders at the top of the Fifa World Rankings. The Spanish are loaded with difference-makers from goalkeeper to striker and a less-than-fully-committed approach from Bafana Bafana could be severely punished.

In Lausanne, SA struggled to win 50/50 balls in midfield. It should be noted, however, that the side’s regular holding midfielder, Kagiso Dikgacoi, wasn’t in action, having also missed the Norway game on the weekend due to injury.

Maybe that is what Bafana Bafana need when they play the top teams – a harder edge that can knock such sides off their free-flowing games.

Whatever South Africa’s shortcomings were, Portugal took advantage of them, and clearly showed the difference between a team ranked tenth in the world and one ranked 72nd.

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