South Africa may have lost against Brazil but at least they went down with a greal deal of verve and style in a performance that coach Joel Santana suggests augurs well for next year’s World Cup.
Residing in the wrong half of FIFA’s world rankings the Confederations Cup hosts are arguably the weakest ever country to stage a World Cup, but they showed in Thursday’s spirited semi-final display that they are on the right track.
Skippered by Aaron Mokoena Bafana, SA achieved what no other team had managed at this World Cup warm-up, and that was to hold the South American giants for a full 87 minutes.
Only an inspirational substitution by Dunga, bringing set-piece specialist Daniel Alves, proved their undoing as the Barcelona man stepped up to convert a free-kick with 180 seconds left on the clock.
Brazil striker Luis Fabiano for one was impressed.
“South Africa didn’t just play the way we expected, they played a lot, lot better,” said the Sevilla forward.
“They put in a fantastic performance, kept it very tight and man-marked us excellently.”
South Africa midfielder Siphiwe Tshabalala, who should have scored with an early header, commented: “Obviously I’m
disappointed with the defeat as this was far and away our best performance of the tournament.
“We weren’t over-respectful of Brazil and we lost with dignity. We went down fighting and that makes me happy.”
Steven Pienaar proved a handful in midfield and the Everton playmaker rightfully picked up the man of the match award.
“I'm not going to deny it. I'm proud at picking up the award but I would have preferred us to win.
“Sometimes football is unfair. We played really well as a team and we still ended up losing. We lost to a great side and I wish them every success in Sunday's final.”
Mokoena praised his teammates who must now pick themselves up for Sunday's third-place play off with European champions Spain.
“It's always a disappointment to lose after battling so hard,” he said.
“My team-mates played really well and we deserved more but just couldn't score. But that's football, isn't it? We need to make sure we keep going now.” Santana highlighted the positives in this honourable defeat against his fellow countrymen.
“We were able to hold our own against Kaka, Robinho, Lucio and the others. We played very well with a lot of discipline and tactical football against a side that has won the World Cup five times.
“We are improving our level of play. Technically we are not as proficient as Brazil but this still gives us confidence and belief in what we can achieve going into the World Cup.”
SA media praise team despite loss
Despite South Africa's loss to Brazil in the semi-finals of the Confederations Cup, newspapers on Friday praised Bafana Bafana's efforts in the World Cup dress rehearsal.
The Citizen newspaper praised the team, “Brave Bafana out: team put up a tough fight before losing 1-0”. “In all honesty, on individual talent alone, SA stood no chance against the Selecao — but yesterday showcased more courage and fight.”
Confed Cup has united SA
Organisers hailed the tournament for uniting South Africans in a way no other sporting code has managed. After a slow start, a country that is better known for its cricket and rugby teams has embraced the tournament of continental champions. Fans have turned out en masse to support the SA side despite the cold weather, but also to see some of their favourite stars from Spain, Brazil and Italy.