It has been said that Bafana Bafana is a sleeping giant — and, on the evidence of the 1-0 defeat against a disciplined, determined United States line-up in the annual Nelson Mandela Challenge game at Ellis Park on Saturday afternoon, the sleeping giant is still sleeping.
A sensational, angled goal from German-based Steve Cherundolo in the 27th minute was sufficient to give the Americans a deserved victory and ensure the Mandela Cup stays in foreign hands for the second successive year after last year’s defeat against Australia.
It was in the first half in which a timid, uninspired Bafana were generally outplayed by the precise and more resolute US, that the game was truly lost.
Bafana improved noticeably in the second period and performed with the kind of spirit they should have demonstrated from the outset, but it was against a line-up in which coach Bob Bradley made six changes — almost entirely with the aim of giving his reserves a feel of the ball rather than achieving better performances.
On a cloudy, sultry afternoon, the United States gained the initiative from the outset with calculated, accurate passing and a composed defence that was rarely troubled by ineffective strikers Benni McCarthy and Sibusiso Zuma.
Those who directed hysterical advice to Bafana coach Carlos Alberto Parreira to utilise two recognised strikers instead of one had their wish granted. Bafana looked no more likely of scoring with two strikers than they had in previous defeats against Bolivia, Zambia, Scotland and Italy, with one man up front.
In the process, Bafana shed much of their midfield authority.
In view of the ambitious motivation behind the concept of the game and the pre-match build-up, the crowd of 18 000 was disappointing in number — although they were clearly the most zealous of Bafana supporters and provided the team with encouragement which would have been worthy of twice their number.
They howled in disappointment in the second half when two Bafana appeals for penalties were rejected.
On the first occasion, McCarthy was barely nudged outside the penalty area, before the Blackburn Rovers player took a spectacular swallow-like leap into the area in a vain attempt to hoodwink the referee.
On the second occasion, the United States defender whose hand struck the ball had his back to the play at the time — and this could hardly be construed as having any intent to handball deliberately.
In contrast to the Americans’ six second-half changes, Parreira only made one substitution while clearly realising the importance of avoiding another demoralising defeat for 83rd-ranked Bafana.
But while the late entry of Kaizer Chiefs’ attacking midfielder, Simphiwe Tshabalala, in place of defender Ricardo Katza, added punch to the attack, Zuma and Steven Pienaar squandered opportunities from inviting positions as the tension proved too much for Bafana.
Katza had initially come into the side as a replacement for injured left-backs Bradley Carnell and Brett Evans and did not have a happy afternoon. – Sapa