Bafana stop the Samba - for a little while, anyway
Gordon Igesund’s first game in charge was something of an acid test, and while his charges might have lost, Igesund’s effort almost certainly won him a few fans. One-nil against Brazil on their home turf – who’d have thunk it? By ANT SIMS.
Gordon Igesund’s first game in charge was a baptism of fire. It was just a friendly, but those who know how much soccer means to Brazil will know that nothing is friendly about the way they play, and a match on Brazil’s Independence Day certainly wasn’t to be taken lightly. By half-time, when the scores were level at 0-0, it was evident that there was nothing relaxed about the match. The fans expected their team to perform, or perhaps they simply didn’t expect Bafana Bafana to show up quite like they did.
Despite a slight delay to the start of the match, hostilities eventually got underway and right from when the whistle blew, Bafana got stuck in. Bongani Khumalo donned the captain’s armband in the absence of Steven Pienaar and Dean Furman and Dino Ndlovu made their debut while Lerato Chabangu made his return to international soccer.
Brazil were very much in control in the first half, but South Africa created an opportunity early on with Siboniso Gaxa charging down the right of the penalty area, only to see his shot easily stopped near-post by Diego Alves. Alves' opposite number, Itumeleng Khune, was in equally fine form, stopping a number of chances from the Brazil attack.
The second half saw the visitors filled with new vigour as Chabangu and Gaxa both fired in good long-range efforts which sailed over the bar, just 15 minutes after the break. Brazil took back the control, though, and Khune tested time and time again. Dominia hit the side netting before the South African keeper made two incredible saves from Neymar - a low shot towards the edge of the box and a roaring effort which was tipped over.
Much like the Confederations Cup game against Brazil a few years ago, one late goal was all that separated the two teams. Porto Striker Hulk fired home from close range after Bafana tried to impose the offside trap, but failed in their execution. South Africa were left waiting for a flag to come up which never did, but they never relented, even when going a goal down.
Khune felt that it was a good result, and while much will be made about South Africans and their willingness to accept mediocrity, the performance away from home - after having just a few days to adjust to conditions - was a good one.
"I'm very satisfied with the result. We created quite a few good chances and this was a good start for us. The result was just unfortunate. The nation should be proud. We showed Brazil no respect and we gave it our best shot," said Khune.
Igesund made some brave calls and changes, but it will take time for his wizardry to take full effect. The Brazil fans jeering their side as they left the pitch, and chanting insults at their players, showed just how much expectancy rested on the home side. Yet Bafana Bafana managed to put their opposition to task and break them down.
It wasn’t a mediocre performance from Bafana by any means. It was a mediocre result which flattered Brazil, especially considering their performance in the second half. Overall, South Africa looked a much more cohesive unit.
What was most telling was how they never sat back after going a goal down. Bafana kept on pressing forward and never relented; they refused to be satisfied with the 1-0 result. It’s far too early in his journey to hail Igesund as the saviour of the South African national team, and it’s far too early to tell whether he really does have a Midas touch. But what is certain is that Bafana Bafana’s players are looking sharp and edgy, are showing glimmers a cheeky attitude. It’s rather novel, and those who follow them will hope that unlike your average novelty, this one doesn’t wear off. DM
Photo: South Africa's coach Gordon Igesund reacts during their international friendly soccer match against Brazil in Sao Paulo September 7, 2012. REUTERS/Paulo Whitaker