South Africa, Iraq draw in Confederations Cup opener
Host country South Africa played Iraq to a 0-0 draw in the opening match of the FIFA Confederations Cup on Sunday in Johannesburg.
With a raucous crowd behind them, the South Africans had a glorious chance to score in the 85th minute of the Group A match. Kagisho Dikgacoi's header appeared destined for the Iraqi net, but teammate Bernard Parker inadvertently blocked the ball with his leg.
"If you don't convert the chances, you are not going to win," said South African playmaker Teko Modise, named the man of the match after his team outshot its opponents 11-2 on bumpy turf that at times may have stifled creative play.
Iraqi goalkeeper Mohammed made a pair of excellent saves late in the game to preserve the draw, but South African head coach Joel Santana blamed Iraq's tactics for the lack of scoring.
"Our opponent never tried to play football," Santana said. "They tried to paralyze the game."
South African star midfielder Steven Pienaar, who's nursing a bad ankle, didn't come on until the final five minutes of the second half. The Bafana Bafana may also have been hurt by the absence of all-time leading scorer Benni McCarthy, who was left off the team by Santana.
Both teams return to action on Wednesday, with Iraq playing European champion Spain (CBCSports.ca, 9:30 a.m. ET) and South Africa taking on Oceania representative New Zealand (CBCSports.ca, 2 p.m. ET).
Spain hammered New Zealand 5-0 in Sunday's other match.
The Confederations Cup — an eight-team tournament featuring the six reigning continental champions plus world champion Italy — is serving as a dress rehearsal of sorts for host South Africa, which is set to stage the World Cup next summer.
There have been worries about the country's preparedness for the mammoth event, but if Sunday's game was any indication South Africa doesn't lack for enthusiasm.
Many of the 52,522 fans at Ellis Park Stadium began blowing their vuvuzelas — airhorns that made it sound as if a swarm of bees had invaded the pitch — before kickoff and kept going through the final whistle. The din quieted briefly for pre-game addresses by FIFA president Sepp Blatter, who reminded the crowd that his organization remains "committed to Africa," and South African President Jacob Zuma, who declared it "a great day" for his country.
The match got off to a chippy start, with South Africa's Thembinkosi Fanteni getting slapped with a yellow card for his hard tackle on Karrar Jasim just two minutes in. It was the fastest booking in Confederations Cup history.
The best chance of a fairly uneventful first half came in the 15th minute when South Africa's Macbeth Sibaya hit a curving shot that Gassid got a hand on.
The pace picked up in the second half, with South Africa dominating possession and generating the best scoring chances with an offensive flurry over the final 15 minutes. Before Dikgacoi's close call, freshly inserted substitute Katlego Mashego found himself with a one-on-one opportunity but was foiled by Gassid.
Wiht files from the Associated Press