Sibaya suspended for Bafana’s semi against Brazil

2009-06-22 00:00

STAR midfielder Macbeth Sibaya, perhaps Bafana Bafana’s player of the tournament so far, will miss South Africa’s semi-final against Brazil at Ellis Park on Thursday through suspension.

Sibaya, a dynamic presence in midfield for Bafana with his tough challenges, mobility and much-improved passing, picked up his third yellow card against Spain and will serve a one-match suspension.

South Africa gave world number one-ranked Spain a good first half in Saturday night’s final Group A game at the Free State Stadium before being outclassed in the second half to run out 2-0 losers, but qualified for the semis thanks to Iraq drawing 0-0 against New Zealand in Rustenburg.

A measure of how close it all was in the end was that, had Iraq scored and managed to win 1-0, it would have come down to a drawing of lots to decide which of Bafana and the Asian champions progressed.

“We knew it was going to be a long night for us, but we wanted to make it as difficult as possible for Spain,” captain Aaron Mokoena said. “We managed to keep them quiet, but it shows what a fantastic team they are — the moment you switch off they punish you.”

Spain coach Vicente Del Bosque kept to his plan of resting players, with five changes from his side’s 1-0 victory over Iraq. But he retained his dangerous attacking quartet of masterful playmaker Xavi, right midfielder Cesc Fabregas and strikers Fernando Torres and David Villa.

Bafana tied up Torres for most of the match and he was substituted by Athletic Bilbao striker Fernado Llorente in the 60th minute. After the game Torres said South Africa were a tough team to score against, and he would like to meet them again in the final.

Bafana were punished for two lapses in concentration by the deadly Spaniards.

Spain came out in the second half exploiting South Africa’s weaker organisation with explosive movement up-front, and earned a penalty when Mokoena brought down Cesc Fabregas in the 51st minute. Itumeleng Khune, who had a heroic evening in goal, saved Villa’s penalty and then the rebound from Carlos Puyol, sending the capacity crowd into a frenzy.

But within seconds Villa was given too much space to control with his chest, turn and finish expertly past Khune for Spain’s 53rd-minute opener.

In the 72nd minute a free-kick, driven in by Xavi from the right, was touched on by Fabregas and Llorente steered the ball into the net.

Reaching the semi-finals has been crucial for South Africa as a morale-boost ahead of the 2010 World Cup, while the tournament experience and pressure of playing as a host nation has been equally important.

And one man whose confidence will be significantly enhanced will be Khune. Santana has controversially fielded the Kaizer Chiefs ’keeper ahead of Rowen Fernandez, despite his poor form last season for club and country.

“Khune is a very good ’keeper and this tournament has given him more experience. I gave him an opportunity because he is a new goalkeeper and he needed exposure playing at this level,” Santana said.

The current Bafana players have lived in the shadow of the 1996 African Nations Cup-winning team, but in reaching the semi-finals they have eclipsed that generation on this stage.

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