Sunday, June 28, 2009

Spain 3 - 2 South Africa: Bafana's Pride and Passion restored despite heartbreaking defeat

Spain defeated Bafana Bafana 3-2 after extra time in the Confederations Cup 3rd/4th place Play-off at the Royal Bafokeng Stadium in Rustenburg.

Image: Kick-Off

We may have been defeated by the Spanish but the team can certainly keep their heads held high after another spirited performance against the number 1 ranked team in the world. The most important aspect for me was that for the first time in years, the players are playing with pride and passion again, and for this Carlos Alberto Parriera and Joel Santana deserves a lot of credit. Coming into the tournament most South Africans expected the team to fail, after all we have plummeted to a lowly rank of 78th in World Football while also failing to qualify for next year's African Cup of Nations, which will be held in Angola.

This tournament has been a real success for the National Team, with the Nation uniting behind Bafana as they took on the likes of Spain and Brazil. I even had a lengthy chat with our Senior Engineer, a 'whitey'(sorry to bring race into this) on Friday after Bafana's defeat against Brazil. I found myself enthusiastically discussing Mokeona's miss and Alves' winning goal with a guy who hardly ever watches soccer!

Getting back to today's game, South Africa came up against Spain in what is commonly known as the 'Losers Final'. Vicete Del Bosque started the match with a strong line-up consisting of Torres, Villa, Alonso and Cassilas amongst others, desperate to get back to winning ways after their shock semi final defeat against USA. Santana made only one change from the side which faced Brazil, bringing back Macbeth Sibaya for Benson Mhlongo.

The first half was an evenly contested affair as Bafana held their own against the Spanish; Matthew Booth missed a guilt edged chance when he failed to hit the target with his header from Tshabalala's free-kick. Spain then had a good opportunity to open the scoring as Santi Carzola broke into the South African box, only to be denied by a brilliant sliding tackle from the impressive Masilela. Simphiwe Tshabalala tested Casillas with a stinging long range effort which the keeper blocked, but the ball fell to Booth inside the box who fired the rebound wide with the goal beckoning.

Spain should have opened the scoring in the second half when Khune blocked a powerful shot from David Villa, which fell into the path of Barcelona's young star Segio Buqsquets who blasted the ball past Khune only for the assistant referee to incorrectly rule his effort out for offside. The game was looking like it would end goalless but it was to be the day of the substitutes as Katlego Mphela silenced his critics(I’ll be having a large slice of humble pie myself!) with a brilliant opening goal in the 73rd minute. The Sundowns striker showed great composure as he controlled Tshabalala's cross with his knee before firing the ball into the roof of Casilla's net as the Stadium erupted in celebration, 1-0 to Bafana!

Bafana was heading for one of their biggest wins since their 1996 AFCON win over Tunisia, but with only two minutes left on the clock Spain pulled a goal back through substitute Daniel Guiza. A minute later it was 2-1 as Guiza scored in the most spectacular fashion with cross from the right, just outside the box which flew found the back of Khune's net via the upright!

This was a real sucker punch for Bafana as the Spanish came from behind to clinch the match. With fans already starting to leave the stadium, Katlego Mphela scored what will surely go down as the goal of the Tournament with the final kick of the game in the 93rd minute. Elrio van Heerden won a free-kick 35 yards out and with the commentator stating that it will take something "very very spectacular" to beat Casillas from that distance, Mphela fired in an unstoppable shot that flew into the net past a helpless Casillas. The goal sparked mass celebrations inside and outside of the stadium as Bafana took the game to extra time.

The first half ended goalless after Mphela missed a good chance to grab his hat-trick, while Spain were unlucky to be denied a penalty after Mhlongo handled the ball in the box. Spain were not to be denied though as Xabi Alonso scored the winning goal from a free-kick in the 107th minute, clinching 3rd place for the Spaniards while leaving South Africa to ponder on what could have been....

Well done Bafana you've made us proud, even in defeat...

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