Bafana end European hoodoo with timely Norway win

2009-03-29 00:00

BAFANA Bafana’s 2-1 friendly international victory over Norway at a newly-refurbished Royal Bafokeng Stadium in Rustenburg on Saturday might not quite have matched its world-class surroundings, but it did provide a welcome first win over European opposition in seven outings.

The result served as a timely confidence boost against a good-strength team who are regular qualifiers for the World Cup, and who generally progress to the knockout stages, ahead of the Confederations Cup in June as South Africa bounced back from a 2-0 defeat against Chile in their last outing.

South Africa face stiffer European opposition in 2006 World Cup semi-finalists Portugal in Lucerne tomorrow night.

After South Africa took the lead in a lively start in the seventh minute through Bernard Parker’s fifth goal in 10 international matches, Norway equalised when the free-kick of Morten Gamst Pedersen, a team-mate of Bafana captain Aaron Mokoena at Blackburn Rovers, took a deflection to beat Itumeleng Khune in goal in the 27th minute.

Bafana coach Joel Santana opted for a hard-working trio of Macbeth Sibaya, Lance Davids and Steven Pienaar in midfield with Teko Modise providing the creative spark. This combination toiled hard in the energy-sapping heat and largely outplayed the Norwegian visitors.

Santana reserved his pacy players for late in the game, and with South Africa on top in the last 20 minutes it always seemed the home team might conjure up a winner even as the clock wound down.

This they did when winger Siphiwe Tshabalala, on for Mabhuti Khenyeza in the 69th minute, produced a superb strike that flew past Jon Knudsen in the Norway goal two minutes into injury time.

The victory, which saw the Nelson Mandela Challenge trophy go to the hosts, might not have impressed Fifa general secretary Jerome Valcke too much, but Valcke clearly was not taking into account the national team’s poor form over the last decade.

As was the case when Bafana recovered from a ragged period of form with some impressive results in the year building up to their victorious African Nations Cup campaign in 1996, South Africa have needed to show signs of form ahead of the Confed Cup and hosting of the World Cup next year. And a larger than usual crowd at Royal Bafokeng is an indication that slowly the national team is capturing the public imagination again.

The absence of Benni McCarthy was barely noticed yesterday and the team played with passion and ran their legs off in the controversial Blackburn striker’s absence, none more so than small-in-stature, but big-hearted Parker.

Right-back Siboniso Gaxa was another to impress and the experienced defender set up Parker’s goal with a good piece of skill and intelligent cut-back. The Mamelodi Sundowns player said Norway’s defensive approach was hard to break down.

“We’re happy with the way we played. It was tough breaking down Norway because they had … every player in behind the ball. But we were patient and kept fighting.”

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