One day into the Confederations Cup, South Africa is exactly where it does not want to be.
“We have our back against the wall,” midfielder Steven Pienaar said after Bafana Bafana was held to a 0-0 draw by Iraq in the eight-team tournament’s opening match. “If you can get three points in the opening game, it normally takes a lot of pressure off a team.”
Now, the team needs a drastic turnaround for the game against New Zealand tomorrow, or it could be as good as out after four days of the two-week tournament.
The Iraq game was considered an easy opener to boost South Africa’s momentum and put it well on the way to the semi-finals.
That, in turn, would give South Africa the credentials of a challenger at next year’s World Cup.
Instead, South Africa coach Joel Santana came under immediate criticism and fans had little to cheer for.
With South African President Jacob Zuma in the stands and fans incessantly blaring their vuvuzela horns, “it was a nervous game,” said Santana, complaining more about Iraq’s defensive tactics than the inefficiency of his forwards.
The jitters will not get any better over the coming days. With little glory and even fewer points expected against Spain in the last group game, South Africa will have to score a convincing win over the Oceania champions tomorrow.
If not, Santana could well be fired after the tournament.
The team was already coming off a bad run of games that left it eliminated from January’s African Cup of Nations, and Santana’s defensive tactics have long frustrated fans.
South Africa was unlucky even before the tournament started, when it was forced to leave Pienaar on the bench because the Everton player was still struggling following an ankle injury and stomach trouble.
Santana should be able to count on him tomorrow, when he will likely team up in midfield with Teko Modise, Sunday’s man of the match and the only bright light on the Bafana Bafana team.
“I feel OK now,” Pienaar said.
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