In what was a big day for South Africa, things went relatively smoothly with a uniquely African opening ceremony two hours before kick-off.
There were complaints from some of the fans that there was chaos at the parking park with thousands of fans waiting for buses to take them to the Stadium. However, overall it was a well-organised opening, with FIFA President Sepp Blatter and the President of South Africa, Jacob Zuma, getting things underway by officially declaring the Confederations Cup open.
Joel Santana opted to go with a similar starting 11 that defeated Poland 1-0 last weekend, with left back Tsepho Masilela coming in for Innocent Mdledle and Teko Modise for Pienaar being the only changes. The game got off with a relatively lively start as striker Tembinkhosi Fanteni picked up a yellow card in the first minute after a crunching tackle on Karrar Jasim.
It soon settled down though, with Bafana struggling to string together passes as the Iraqis quickly closed down the spaces. Jasim had the first chance of the game with a speculative shot from distance, which Khune comfortably saved. Bernard Parker had South Africa’s first effort on goal with a weak shot from outside the box.
Holding midfielder Macbeth Sibaya had Bafana’s best chance of the opening 45 minutes when he unleashed a powerful shot from 30 yards out, which the Iraqi keeper did well to tip over for a corner. That was the only real highlights of a dull an uneventful first half, which ended 0-0 at the break.
Bafana started the second half much better, looking determined to open the scoring as they started to get bodies into the Iraq box, which led to our best chances of the game. Fanteni was the first player to go close with a powerful glancing header from a Modise corner going narrowly over the crossbar.
Santana refused to make substitutions despite calls from the home crowd, but the coach made a tactical change by deciding to play with three at the back. It looked as if the Iraqis were starting to get affected by the altitude as they allowed Bafana to control the match.
The coach finally made a change in the 78nd minute when he brought on Orlando Pirates striker Katlego Mashego for Fanteni, and within minutes of coming on Mashego should have opened the scoring for South Africa. Khune’s Reina-like goal-kick found the striker in space and after fighting off the attention of an Iraqi defender the striker found himself one-on-one with the keeper but fired his shot straight into him.
The frustrating miss had South Africans jumping off their seats, but this was not half as frustrating as the next missed opportunity. With seven minutes left on the clock a goal seemed destined for Bafana as Kagiso Digkacoi connected with Gaxa’s cross to fire in a header which had goal written all over it.
You could see the crowed getting ready to celebrate the opening goal as the ball headed into an empty net with the keeper beaten hands down, however the ball somehow managed to hit Bernard Parker on the back of his leg just in front of the goal line. This was desperately unlucky for Bafana Bafana who deserved to come away from this game with at least a narrow win, but perhaps that was the final sign in a negative day that proved Joel Santana had his tactics all wrong.
Santana is bound to come in for some criticism for starting the match with three defensive midfielders, but there were reports that Pienaar suffered a stomach bug two days before the match, which could explain his decision to leave the Everton star on the bench.
There was a serious lack of width in this formation, and as a result full-backs Masilela and Gaxa were practically playing as wingers for most of the match. Ahead of the game the coach had committed to attacking against Iraq, but how can that be true if he threw on three holding midfielders in his starting line-up?
Santana was questioned on this after the match but one can barely make out a word of what the Brazilian kept saying that the team played well and that they ‘controlled’ the match, a phrase which Bafana supporters will be more than familiar with under the coach, who seems focused more on not losing than actually winning.
It was not a pretty match, far from it, but Bafana were very unlucky not to win it and the players put in a decent performance overall. More was expected from Teko Modise but the Orlando Pirates player had a below par game in Pienaar's absence, something which will hopefully change in the New Zealand match on Wednesday.
Santana needs to go with a more attack-minded line up against New Zealand in the second group match because a win is vital at this stage, considering the fact that Spain awaits in the final match of the group stages. A point won at this stage is little indication of how the group will end after the three match days, with the key fixtures of South Africa – New Zealand and Iraq – New Zealand still to take place.
Perhaps a shift in tactics is required at this point, with a much more attacking line-up needing to start the game against the Oceania champions.
Modise and Pienaar should be on the pitch at the same time, with only one or at most two of the holding midfielders providing back up for the solid defence that should not struggle against New Zealand. Mashego should be thrown in from the start to partner Parker up front, while Gaxa and Masilela push forward on the wings to overlap and put pressure on the inexperienced New Zealand defence. In short, the next game needs to be about one thing, attack!
Ashraf Stakala & Peter Pedroncelli, Goal.com