Bafana push Brazil to edge

2009-06-26 00:00

BAFANA Bafana pushed Brazil to the very edge of an improbable defeat in last night’s Confederations Cup semi-final at Ellis Park, before being stunned by Daniel Alves’s 88th-minute free-kick.

In one of the bravest performances by a South African sporting team in recent years, the 72nd-ranked underdogs had fifth-ranked Brazil shaken, on the ropes and clearly without a clue how to break down Bafana’s resolute defence and biting midfield play.

The game began with the pressure on the shoulders of the hosts, but as the scoreline remained goalless, it switched to the Brazilians. Had it gone to extra time, one had the sense South Africa might have snuck a winner.

With two minutes to go and the South Africans expertly winding down the clock towards an added half-hour, midfielder Ramires went down on the edge of the area and Swiss referee Massimo Busacca somewhat favourably awarded Brazil a free-kick a metre outside the area on the left.

Substitute Alves, on for left wing-back Andre Santos six minutes earlier, curled the ball past the until-then unbeatable Itumeleng Khune and Brazil were relieved winners, and opponents of the USA in Sunday’s final.

There was a lingering sense that Bafana might, and even should, have won this game. But how harsh can you be when your national team has just played out of their skins to match one of the world’s great football sides for 88 minutes in a major semi-final.

In doing so, South Africa have shown that, given some fine-tuning over the next year, they will not be there just to make up the numbers at the 2010 World Cup, particularly if they can unearth a striker to partner Bernard Parker up front.

Bafana were unbeatable at set pieces against one of the world’s best exponents of that practice.

Coach Joel Santana kept to his promise of a measured attacking approach, bringing in Siphiwe Tshabalala for suspended Macbeth Sibaya to complement the creative skills of Teko Modise and Steven Pienaar in the middle.

South Africa were relaxed and comfortable on the ball from the beginning.

In the 13th minute Ramires had a shot from the edge of the area that was comfortably held by Khune. South Africa’s reply came almost immediately as Sibonisa Gaxa stole the ball from Santos before striking just wide from range.

Bafana had a chance to open the scoring when captain Aaron Mokoena got on the end of Gaxa’s free-kick from right midfield, but headed over the bar.

The South Africans calmly tracked the Brazilians and stood up in the challenge to win the ball in the midfield.

In the 29th minute Tshabalala’s 28-metre free-kick tested Brazil ’keeper Julio Cesar.

Ramires and Robinho had narrow offsides decisions go against them before Khune held Santos’s tentative half-volley from the left.

Then, after a missed header by Gaxa, Kaka weaved a dangerous path at goal and curled a shot inches wide.

South Africa were running out of ideas in attack and Kaka stole the ball on the right and ran into the area, but his angled shot was held by Khune. But Pienaar’s shot from range just wide showed the hosts were still very much in the game.

Brazil began the second half looking dangerous, but Bafana kept on winning possession, then swept the ball around imperiously as Modise’s shot was saved at full stretch by Cesar.

Fabiano’s narrow-angled shot was never going to trouble Khune as the Selecao continued to be swamped in midfield and ran into a wall of green in the final third.

Bafana had most of the possession, but were cautious to put numbers forward, and created fewer chances than they had in the first half.

With three minutes to go, and Bafana playing for extra time, Ramires went down under Mokoena’s challenge and referee Busacca blew for the fatal free-kick. Alves almost inevitably curled the ball in at the top-right corner to finally beat Khune and Brazil were relieved to be on their way to the final.

Khune saved with his legs from Fabiano to keep Bafana in with a faint chance of an equaliser, but there was just not enough time left.

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