Goals on either side of the half from Bernard Parker gave South Africa a convincing 2-0 win over New Zealand in Rustenberg this evening, as the hosts took a huge step toward emerging from the group stages of the competition.
The All Whites meanwhile crash out before the knockout stages following another disappointing performance in which they barely managed to register a shot on target all game.
It was the hosts who began brightest in Rustenberg, pressing their opponents and moving the ball about quickly and relative comfortably against a New Zealand outfit who had struggled with the pace of their opponents off the ball during their 5-0 mauling against Spain a few days earlier.
And whilst the likes of Torres and Villa were replaced by those of Parker and Fanteni on this occasion, the very same problems that Ricki Herbert’s side encountered defensively in their Confederations Cup opener still plagued them.
Unable to retain possession in their opponents’ half and generally sitting too deep to effectively close down in midfield, the All Whites were lucky not to have been behind after just 17 minutes.
A simple passing move involving Rubin Kazan’s Macbeth Sibaya and Teko Modise teed up English Premier League star Steven Pienaar outside the area, from where he was afforded the space to size up an effort fired straight at goalkeeper Glen Moss.
The A-League goalkeeper’s next job would be to pick the ball out of his own net though, when four minutes later Red Star Belgrade man Bernard Parker scored the home side’s first goal of the competition.
Initially, Tsepo Masilela outmuscled David Mulligan down the left flank before cutting the ball back from the by-line, where the unmarked Parker in one swift motion swept the ball beyond Moss with the help of a slight deflection off Andrew Boyens.
It was a goal that appeared to bring both a sense of relief and joy to a group of payers who will be under intense scrutiny ahead of next year’s finals by virtue of the fact that they are the host nation.
That expectation might have been a factor in their nervous performance against Iraq on the opening matchday, though Joel Santana’s side were at their flowing best against the Oceania champions.
On 32 minutes, Parker should have extended their lead after a brilliant run, stealing the ball from veteran Simon Elliott in midfield before taking the ball all the way to the edge of the area, from where he cut inside Ivan Vicelich but saw his relatively week effort deflected wide by the outstretched boot of Moss.
New Zealand’s only half-chance appropriately arrived from a set-piece just two minutes later, a long throw flicked on at the near-post, captain Tim Brown arriving late at the far post and scuffing his shot wide.
It was Bafana Bafana who began the second half with the same endeavour as they had displayed throughout the first, playing inside their opponents’ half and taking the lead after just seven minutes of concerted attacking pressure.
Again Masilela was the provider from the left side after being released by Pienaar, crossing to the near post from where Parker scored his and his side’s second goal after getting in front of Vicelich, the ball appearing to hit his thigh and spin past a fully extended Moss and inside the far post.
The striker almost had his third on 62 minutes, flicking on a free-kick that was saved fairly comfortably by Mosque before Modise neatly cut in on his left foot moments later only to drag his effort wide of the near-post.
While South Africa were easily finding space on the ball and looking dangerous on the break, New Zealand were literally non-existent as an attacking threat, the isolated Shane Smeltz with what appeared to be his side’s first shot on target after a full 75 minutes.
It was the briefest of reprieves for a side who have appeared out of their depth at the tournament so far, a worrying sign ahead of a crucial World Cup Qualifying play-off against the fifth best Asian team in October.
The confident South Africans should have extended their lead on 78 minutes, substitutes Siphiwe Tshabalala and Katlego Mashego combining, the latter seeing his effort smothered from close range sharply by Moss after being slipped into the penalty area by his team-mate.
Lively after their introduction, the duo were intimately involved in another move in the closing stages, Mashego seeing his half-volley deflected over the crossbar after forcing his way into the area before beating the All Whites’ offside trap only to again have Moss save.
It was the final action of a match that began and ended with South Africa in attack, with New Zealand now officially out of the running to get out of the group stages as they prepare for a final clash with Iraq.
South Africa 2 (Parker 21', 52')
New Zealand 0
South Africa: Khune, Gaxa, Masilela, Mokoena, Sibaya, Pienaar, Modise, Dikcagoi, Booth, Parker (78’ Thshabalala), Fanteni (62’ Mashego)
New Zealand: Moss, Lochhead, Vicelich, Elliott, Brown (55’ Oughton), Smeltz, Killen (75’ Wood), Bertos (66’ James), Christie, Mulligan, Boyens
Chris Paraskevas, Goal.com