Bafana Bafana held their own against a determined Australia, playing out to a 1-1 draw in an international friendly at ANZ Stadium in Sydney on Monday.
Ayanda Patosi opened the scoring after 13 minutes with a classy finish, but saw his goal cancelled out by an unfortunate own goal from South African defender Erick Mathoho, who mistimed a goal-line clearance and buried the ball in the back of the net.
The game was the first on tour for the South Africans, whose original squad of 18 was ravaged by player withdrawals before the team departed for their trip Down Under.
Gordon Igesund’s youngsters put up a decent performance in front of a 50 000-strong Sydney crowd. Written off as a second-string side before kick-off, Bafana looked good in patches and dampened much of the home supporters’ spirits. The locals came out in their numbers to bid farewell to the Socceroos, who played their final game before they jet off to Brazil on Wednesday for the Fifa World Cup, starting on June 12.
The hosts started brightly and had early chances stifled by Senzo Meyiwa in goal. He was forced to make a couple of brilliant stops, including a reflex save off the line to deny Matthew Leckie in the eighth minute.
Bafana managed to soak up the pressure and five minutes later, Patosi rounded-off a move he had started inside his own half. Somewhat against the run of play, Patosi surged forward along the right flank, before laying off to Thulani Serero, who in turn threaded a fine pass through to Tokelo Rantie. Rantie did some good work in the area but was dispossessed, then centred for an advancing Patosi, who curled in his effort, slotting into the side of the net on the way in.
The South Africans’ celebrations, however, were short-lived as less than 90 seconds later, the home side drew level, benefiting from a clumsy clearance on the line from Mathoho, who found the roof of the net with his failed clearance.
Australia were all over their visitors after the equaliser and saw two further chances go begging after 20 minutes, as Bafana’s passes went astray and their defence wilted under heavy strain.
Level at the break, Bafana had a much better start to the second period and saw Patosi flash narrowly wide of the mark a minute into the half. For Australia, Leckie dragged wide before the hour mark. South Africa enjoyed their best period an hour into the clash, with a number of promising interchanges going a long way to erase some clumsy passing in the opening 45 minutes.
The teams settled into a canter with 20 minutes left to play, but Bafana seemed to hold on to possession and were able to pay regular visits into the opposition territory, while still looking shaky at the back.
Australia, who are yet to whittle their World Cup squad down from its current 30 to the final 23, withdrew key players like Tim Cahill and Leckie from the field, giving the rest of the squad an opportunity to test their fitness and stake their claim in front of coach Ange Postecoglou.
A final flourish from the home side almost led to a late winner by Oliver Bozanic, who did well to loop a header goalwards. But he pushed it slightly high, past a grateful Meyiwa who watched as the chance went agonisingly wide.
In the end, the teams matched each other in most departments, but a worry for Igesund remains in South Africa’s lack of composure in possession and regular gifting of the ball to their opposite numbers. – Sapa
Sapa’s reporter is in Sydney as a guest of the South African Football Association.