Bafana keep Bulgaria at bay
Siyabonga Sangweni (Gallo Images)
Soweto - World Cup hosts South Africa received a reality check on Monday when held 1-1 by non-qualifiers Bulgaria in a warm-up match.
Cock-a-hoop after a record-equalling four-goal thumping of Thailand last weekend, the home team dominated the early exchanges and took a 20th-minute lead through defender Siyabonga Sangweni at Orlando Stadium.
But a Bulgarian team 51 places above Bafana Bafana on the FIFA world rankings equalised through highly rated striker Valeri Bojinov soon after and matched their rivals during the second half.
South Africa continue their countdown to the June 11-July 11 tournament with a friendly against Colombia at Soccer City on May 27 and conclude their preparations by playing Denmark on June 5 in Pretoria.
The first African country to stage the quadrennial, 80-year-old world football showcase, South Africa are in Group A with Mexico and former champions France and Uruguay.
Coach Carlos Alberto Parreira has been preaching shape and possession since the beginning of the year and he could afford a rare smile early on as his players dominated against rivals content to defend in depth.
The first clash between the countries burst into life on 11 minutes when goalkeeper Nikolay Mihaylov failed to hold a Teko Modise free kick only for three South Africans to jump for the resultant cross and the ball flew wide.
Netherlands-based Mihaylov was consistently failing to hold shots and crosses and was finally found out when Sangweni rose unchallenged at the far post and sent a glancing header into the net for his first international goal.
Taking the lead had a surprisingly negative effect on the home team who surrendered the initiative and it came as no surprise when Bulgaria levelled with 31 minutes gone on a dry, chilly night in the black township of Soweto.
As the ball ran loose just inside the South African penalty area, Parma striker Valeri Bojinov demonstrated why he is seen as a successor to retired star Dimitar Berbatov with a clinical low shot past Itumeleng Khune.
South Africa reacted positively and ended the opening half back on the offensive, looking dangerous from set pieces while Mihaylov appeared uncomfortable whenever under pressure.
Parreira introduced foreign-based stars at half-time for the first time since their end-of-season return from Europe with captain Aaron Mokoena, fellow defender Tsepo Masilela and midfielder Kagisho Dikgacoi coming on.
More substitutions were made at regular intervals by both coaches and this was affecting the rhythm of a game that lacked the excitement of the first half with Bulgaria holding their own in largely featureless exchanges.