South Africa boss Joel Santana says his team getting to the Confederations Cup semi-finals was vitally important to maintain the sport’s profile ahead of the World Cup next year.
Football battles with rugby and cricket in the popularity stakes here and with Africa holding its first ever World Cup finals it was a big plus point that the hosts remain in the tournament of continental champions.
“The team was not good against Spain but Bafana Bafana (The Boys) have qualified. It’s good for the people, good for the players and good for our preparations for the World Cup,” he said.
“It’s important the team got to the semi-finals. I’m very happy. The experience we gained is crucial for the World Cup.”
South Africa lost 2-0 to European champions Spain on Saturday in front of a raucous full-house at the Free State Stadium in Bloemfontein as fans start to embrace the tournament after a slow start.
They qualified for the last four after Iraq failed to beat New Zealand in a simultaneous game in Johannesburg and will play the winner of Group B, either Brazil, Italy or Egypt, on Thursday.
Despite South Africa clearly lacking Spain’s talent, Brazilian Santana insisted his team deserved their place in the last four.
“We have four points, and Iraq have two. Iraq never came here to play or win, but we won and we are in the semi-finals,” he said, referring to the defensive tactics adoped by Iraq coach Bora Milutinovic.
But he knows they need to up their game in the semi-finals with too many passes going astray against Spain and a lack of creativity on set pieces.
Asked who he would prefer to meet in the semi-finals, Santana said he did not care as it would all add to their experience.
“It doesn’t matter who we play in the semi-final, Bafana will enjoy the game,” he said
“A game against Brazil or Italy would be great matches in terms of experience for the team.”
South Africa qualify for the World Cup automatically as hosts.
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