Port Elizabeth - Bafana Bafana head coach Carlos Alberto Parreira’s new era with the South African national side got off to a good start when a new-look Bafana held highly rated Japan to a hard fought 0-0 draw in a friendly international clash watched by 44 000 enthusiastic fans at the new Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium on Saturday.
Parreira, who replaced fellow countryman Joel Santana last month, had an immediate effect. While there were a lot of bad mistakes made by Bafana this was by far their gutsiest performance since reaching the semifinals of the Confederations Cup in June.
Bafana showed fight and, as promised by skipper Aaron Mokoena, the players were prepared to put their bodies on the line to get a result against a Japanese side that have already qualified for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa next June.
The draw ended a series of poor defeats under Santana and Bafana go into Tuesday’s friendly against Jamaica in Bloemfontein with a lot of confidence and morale restored.
There is still a hard road ahead for Bafana and Parreira, but at least they started on a positive note against the Blue Samurai.
South Africa battled to get into the match due to a lot of pressure from the kick-off by Japan, ranked 40th in the world, who showed they were not in the Windy City for a holiday camp.
The South Africans were under a lot of pressure against the more composed and better organised Japanese side who had control of the opening 25 minutes.
Parreira persisted with the two defensive midfielders, Macbeth Sibaya and the out of form Kagisho Dikgacoi, his predecessor Joel Santana so loved.
That forced both strikers Benni McCarthy and Katlego Mphela to come deep to get the ball during the opening half an hour.
But Parreira was determined that Bafana keep their shape and kill the visitors' threat in the midfield where Japan looked dangerous when going forward.
But all credit to Parreira who made three bold substitutions in the 68th minute when he took off ineffective playmaker Teko Modise, replaced by Elrio van Heerden, Dikgacoi, for Reneilwe Letsholonyane, and the hard working Siphiwe Tshabalala, given a rest a rest for speedy SuperSport United left wing Daine Klate.
Bafana keeper Moeneeb Josephs pulled off a stunning save in the 11th minute to deny Makoto Hasebe an opening goal. The Wolfsburg midfield star created an opening and let fly with a vicious 20-metre rocket that the Orlando Pirates star did brilliantly to fist over his crossbar.
Japan’s Shinji Okazaki almost punished the hesitant Bafana back four in the 16th minute when he found himself in space and shaved the upright with a great shot that had Josephs at full stretch and that inched past the post.
But as the game progressed, so did the confidence of the near capacity crowd who willed on the hosts. Tshabalala forced Blue Samurai goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima to turn his pile driver in the 30th minute for a corner.
Tshabalala was having a good game on the wing and was worrying the Japanese defenders with his pace and skill down the left flank, while Bafana at that stage were starting to find their feet after a nervous start, and the near capacity crowd were loving it.
Bafana’s right back, Belgium-based Anele Ngcongca, also started to shine and laid off a fabulous ball to Mphela who, with McCarthy unmarked and in a better position, decided to go for glory and blasted over the upright in the 38th minute.
Japan started the second half with the same determination as they did the first. But after weathering the storm South Africa started putting the Blue Samurai defence under pressure.
Then for some reason, when Bafana were on attack in the 56ht minute and looking for an opening, defender Morgan Gould, who was up supporting his attack, played back the ball and ruined what was a promising move. That cautious move from Gould was certainly not on Parreira’s halftime script or team talk.
It underlined again how desperate South Africa were to defend a 0-0 scoreline. But they refused to buckle and started playing with a lot more confidence in the second half, taking the game to their more experienced and higher ranked opponents.
And another top drawer save by Josephs from an Okazaki shot denied Japan a goal in the 79th minute as the visitors mounted another dangerous attack.
Bafana finished stronger and had Japan under pressure during the lengthy five minutes optional time that Angolan referee Romvaldo Baltazar somehow found to play.