South Africa, playing for their Confederations Cup lives at the Royal Bafokeng stadium built on revenue from the local platinum mines, dug themselves out of deep trouble here Wednesday with a resounding 2-0 win over New Zealand.
After their limp opening draw, Joel Santana’s ‘Bafana Bafana’ finally tapped into a rich seam of form with goals either side of half-time from Bernard Parker.
This was sweet redemption for the Serbia-based striker for it was he who had inadvertently blocked Kagisho Dikgacoi’s goal-bound header against Iraq on Sunday.
The man of the match said: “I’d like to thank my coach who showed a lot of faith in me by starting me for this game. I liked the way we played, full of confidence.”
Santana added: “We had to win this game but we played well in defence, midfield moved well and they were fast in attack.”
New Zealand coach Ricki Herbert was unhappy with his side’s showing.
“Some key players struggled to get going tonight. We’re still chasing that elusive point and that’ll be our priority on Saturday.”
The Rustenburg result in front of a near-capacity 40,000 crowd boosted the 2010 World Cup hosts’ prospects of qualifying for the semi-finals as Group A runners-up behind Spain, who ensured their place in the last four earlier Wednesday with a 1-0 win over Iraq.
While the permutations are plenty, South Africa, with four points, will guarantee qualification if they get a draw on Saturday with Spain – by no means inconceivable if they repeat this level of performance – irrespective of how Iraq fare against New Zealand.
If they lose and the Iraqis beat New Zealand then it will come down to goal difference.
After their nervy curtain-raiser this was a far livelier South Africa and part of the reason for that was the return from injury of Everton playmaker Steven Pienaar.
The South Africans turned up at the stadium dancing and singing and the party mood spilled over onto the pitch as they ran rings round New Zealand for much of the game.
They had the ball in the back of the net in the 11th minute only for Thembinkosi Fanteni to be ruled offside.
Ten minutes later they were celebrating the real thing with Pienaar playing a key role in a neat three-man move.
In possession the Everton star scrambled round like a dervish fighting off New Zealanders from all angles before finding Parker who flicked the ball on to Tsepo Masilela waiting on the edge of the box.
Masilela then rounded a New Zealand defender before crossing to Parker who swerved a left-footed shot into the top right hand corner with the ball glancing Glenn Moss’s outstretched gloves on the way in.
Santana must have felt a million dollars but on the surface the Brazilian was a picture of composure, delicately removing his glasses and placing them in an inside pocket.
He had them out again on the half hour mark as he watched South Africa almost doubling their advantage only for Moss to employ his big toe to great effect to divert Fantani’s forceful right-footed shot to safety.
New Zealand could count themselves fortunate they weren’t going into the break on the wrong side of a more lopsided scoreline such was South Africa’s dominance.
Masilela was instrumental in goal number two as well as he beat off New Zealand defender Dave Mulligan to cross from the left for Parker to shoot high past Moss into the top far corner.
The rampant hosts thought they had a third in the 70th minute but Katlego Mashego, who had replaced Fanteni, was flagged for offside.
A flurry of substitutions, including Parker who got a standing ovation, followed.
South Africa could have tripled or quadrupled their advantage in the closing stages but for some sloppy finishing and some desperate defending by the hapless champions from Oceania whose sorry Confed Cup record now reads eight games with no return.
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