Bafana show their mettle

2010-05-25 00:00

BULGARIA were always going to be a tough nut to crack and, try as they might, Bafana Bafana were unable to conjure a second goal from their weight of possession and territory in a 1-1 friendly World Cup warm-up at a freezing Orlando Stadium last night.

The South Africans played at a good intensity and were the better of the two sides. The Bulgarians were on the back foot for all but a brief period in the middle of the first half.

The 39th-ranked visitors gave South Africa what they had been looking for — a tough, tactical workout — and Bafana’s improvement in recent months was again clearly visible. Siphiwe Tshabalala and man of the match Teko Modise, earning his 50th cap, continued to look refreshed and rehabilitated.

Bafana utilised a charged-up period in the opening 20 minutes to engineer a lead through Siyabonga Sangweni’s header, but a defensive lapse allowed the Bulgarians to equalise through Valeri Borzhinov in the 32nd minute.

As promised, coach Carlos Alberto Parreira started with the same line-up that beat Thailand 4-0 in Bafana’s warm-up match in Nelspruit. Bafana’s starting eleven were all PSL-based players who have been part of the training camps in Brazil and Germany.

As against Thailand, these players looked assured in their passing and build-ups, and at times swarmed all over Bulgaria. But Bafana were also loose in defence — the main reason for the 1-1 scoreline not reflecting the balance of play at the break.

Parreira began the process of introducing his foreign-based players as substitutes after the break and, while they looked the part, their absence for a prolonged period showed in a less cohesive second half.

With the remaining warm-ups against Columbia tomorrow night, a team to be announced on Saturday, and Denmark on June 5, Parreira will continue to explore his combinations and create a forged unit that will meet Mexico in Bafana’s World Cup opener.

“Of course, the better result is always to win but, at the same time, in a preparation match like this so close to the World Cup it is not always possible,” Parreira said. “There has been a lot of improvement and the team is going step by step.

“And we were not playing a weak team. In the second half we introduced six players, which we had to do. The Bulgarians played with nine men behind the ball a lot.

“I am happy that this is going to be the same level we will face in the World Cup; it won’t be much higher.”

Bafana’s overwhelming early pressure counted when the South Africans scored with a move from the training ground in the 20th minute.

Siphiwe Tshabalala’s excellent corner was ghosted onto by Sangweni, who bu­ried his header at the far post.

The Bulgarians picked up the pace, and rising Parma star Valeri Bozhinov’s chip sailed dangerously close to Itumeleng Khune’s upright.

The visitors pried open their only clear-cut chance and scored when Georgi Peev cut inside Lucas Thwala on the right. His chip picked out the darting run of Bozhinov to chest and sweep past Khune in the 32nd minute.

Bafana regained the momentum but Thanduyise Khuboni’s shot ruffled the netting, Reneilwe Letsholonyane’s skidding effort was palmed out by goalkeeper Nikolay Mihaylov and Thwala’s header was just over.

Parreira introduced three heavyweights at the beginning of the second half in Aaron Mokoena, Kagisho Dikgacoi and Tsepo Masilela to replace Siyabonga Sangweni, Letsholonyane and Thwala.

Bafana were immediately on the attack again.

Subtitutes Siyabonga Nomvete, Bernard Parker and Franklin Cale helped keep up the pressure, though without a final result against the Bulgarian wall.

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