Bafana Bafana can consider themselves unlucky not to have picked up three points against Iraq in the opening game of the Fifa Confederations Cup at Ellis Park Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
In what was a big day for the country, things went relatively smoothly with a uniquely African opening ceremony two hours before kick off. There were complaints from some of the fans that there was chaos at the parking park with thousands of fans waiting for busses to take them to the Stadium. However overall it was a well organized opening with Fifa President and the President of South Africa, Jacob Zuma getting things underway by officially declaring the Confederations Cup open.
Joel Santana opted to go with a similar starting 11 that defeated Poland 1-0 last weekend, with left back Tsepho Masilele coming in for Innocent Mdledle and Teko Modise for Pienaar being the only changes.
The game got off the lively start as striker Tembinkhosi Fanteni picked up a yellow card in the first minute after a crunching tackle on Karrar Jasim. It soon settled down though, with Bafana struggling to string together passes as the Iraqi’s quickly closed down the space. Jasim had the first chance of the game with a speculative shot from distance which Khune comfortably saved. Bernard Parker had South Africa’s first effort on goal with a weak shot from outside the box. Holding midfielder Macbeth Sibaya had our best chance of the opening 45 minutes when he unleashed a powerful shot from 30 yards out which the Iraqi keeper did well to tip over for a corner in the 13th minute. That was the only real highlights of a dull an uneventful first half which ended 0-0 at the break.
Bafana started the second half much better, looking determined to open the scoring as they started to get bodies into the Iraq box, which lead to our best chances of the game. Fanteni was the first player to go close with a powerful glancing header from a Modise corner going narrowly over the crossbar.Santana refused to make substitutions despite calls from the home crowd, but the coach made a tactical change by deciding to play with three at the back. It looked as if the Iraqi’s were starting to get affected by the altitude as they allowed Bafana to control the match.
The coach finally made a change in the 78nd minute when he brought on Orlando Pirates striker Katlego Mashego for Fanteni, and within minutes of coming on Mashego should have opened the scoring for South Africa. Khune’s Reina-like goal kick found the striker in space and after fighting off the attention of a Iraqi defender the striker found himself one on one with the keeper but fired his shot straight at him! FA frustrating miss that had me jumping off my seat, however this was not half as frustrating as our next missed opportunity.
With 7 minutes left on the clock a goal seemed destined for Bafana as Kagiso Digkacoi connected with Gaxa’s cross to fire in a header which had goal written all over it. You could see the crowed getting ready to celebrate our opening goal as the ball headed into an empty net with the keeper beaten hands down, however the ball SOMEHOW managed to hit Bernard Parker on the back of his leg just in front of the goal line. Desperately unlucky for Bafana Bafana who deserved to come away from this game with at least a win.
Santana is bound to come in for some criticism for starting the match with three defensive midfielders but there were reports that Pienaar suffered a stomach bug two days before the match which could explain his decision to leave the Everton star on the bench. I was very concerned with our lack of width in this formation. The fullback’s Masilele and Gaxa were practically playing as wingers for most of the match.
Santana was questioned on this after the match but I could barely make out a word of what the Brazilian was saying, heaven knows how the player’s are supposed to understand his instructions during a match. He kept saying that the team played well and that we ‘controlled’ the match, a phrase which Liverpool supporters will be more than familiar with under Rafa Benitez who is infamous for focusing more on not losing than actually winning.
To summarise, it wasn’t a pretty match, far from it but we were VERY unlucky not to win it and I think the boys put in a good(decent) performance overall. I expected more from Teko Modise but the Orlando Pirates player had a below par game in Pienaar's absence.
I hope Santana will go with a more attack minded line up against New Zealand in the second group match because a win will be vital.
Looking forward to the next match….