Manchester United reserve Zoran Tosic scored twice for Serbia as hosts South Africa began their countdown to the 2010 World Cup with a 3-1 friendly international loss Wednesday.
Most of the drama came in the second half at Super Stadium outside Pretoria with Danko Lazovic claiming the other Serb goal while Katlego Mphela reduced the deficit deep in stoppage time.
The result served as a severe reality check for a South African team widely praised by the public and media after finishing fourth in the Confederations Cup despite managing only one victory in five games.
Serbia, lacking injured star defender Nemanja Vidic and midfielder general and captain Dejan Stankovic, comfortably soaked up first-half South African pressure before taking control after half-time and building a three-goal lead.
“We have a key World Cup qualifier against France next month and this result was very important because it will give us a lot of confidence,” said half-time substitute Tosic.
Coach Radomir Antic said: “This was a good warm-up for France. South Africa were very skilful in the first half while Serbia dominated the second and I’m confident that we are building a really solid team.”
South Africa coach Joel Santana, who arrived in the country just 24 hours before the match after taking ill in his native Brazil, hailed Serbia as a country destined to reach the 2010 World Cup.
“Serbia are a very good team, but we made it easier for them by conceding too much space in midfield after half-time. I was very impressed with my team in the first half when the marking and positional play was excellent.”
Bafana Bafana (The Boys) came close to scoring after two minutes when a Mphela free kick was parried by goalkeeper Vladimir Stojkovic on to the crossbar.
The vistors almost broke the deadlock twice late in the opening half only to be foiled by a brave block from goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune and a timely tackle from midfielder Macbeth Sibaya.
Tosic had a penalty appeal rejected before holding off Matthew Booth to stab the ball across substitute goalkeeper Rowen Fernandez into the far corner on 56 minutes.
Lazovic half volleyed an Ivan Obradovic cross wide of Fernandez after 67 minutes and Tosic turned Lucas Thwala twice inside the penalty area before firing home the third goal 10 minutes later.
South Africa were facing a record home defeat until Mphela salvaged a little pride three mintues into stoppage time, bursting through the middle and lifting the ball over Stojkovic.
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