Soccer

Spain wins wild bronze medal match

After a crazy final 20 minutes of play in the FIFA Confederations Cup bronze medal match, Xabi Alonso scored on a free kick in the 107th minute of extra time to win third place for Spain over host nation South Africa by a 3-2 scoreline on Sunday afternoon.
Spain's Xabi Alonso, centre, is congratulated by teammates after scoring the game-winner in extra time during the FIFA Confederations Cup bronze medal match on Sunday. ((Jasper Juinen/Getty Images) )

After a crazy final 20 minutes of play in the FIFA Confederations Cup bronze medal match, Xabi Alonso scored on a free kick in the 107th minute during extra time to win third place for Spain over host nation South Africa by a 3-2 scoreline on Sunday afternoon.

The Spaniards thought they had the game won after Daniel Guiza overturned a 1-0 deficit with goals in the 88th and 89th minutes of play.

But South Africa's Katlego Mphela scored his second of the game on a free kick deep into stoppage time to send the match into a thrilling extra session at the Royal Bafokeng Stadium in Rustenberg, South Africa, where Alonso's heroics won the day.

Alonso sent a ball low into a crowded South Africa penalty area that ended up missing everyone — including keeper Itumeleng Khune — as it skidded into the right side of the net for the match winner.

"It's a nice way to forget about the loss to the U.S.," said Spain coach Vicente del Bosque.

That one hurt, as the Spaniards saw their record 15-game winning streak and 35-match unbeaten run come to an end, but the world's No. 1-ranked squad recovered well to win on Sunday.

Mphela scored in the 73rd minute to give the South Africans a 1-0 lead.

Spain opted to rest Xavi, Cesc Fabregas, Carlos Puyol, Pablo Hernandez for the tie, and took off striking tandem Fernando Torres and David Villa at the hour mark. Villa and Torres are tied with Brazil's Luis Fabiaino for the tournament scoring lead, all with three goals.

South African defender Tsepo Masilela, left, fights for the ball with Spain's David Villa during Sunday's bronze medal match at the FIFA Confederations Cup. ((Gianluigi Guercia/AFP/Getty Images))

South Africa proved itself up to the task on Sunday, competing hard for 120 minutes against a Spanish side desperate for redemption after the semifinal loss. By virtue of finishing no lower than fourth, the Bafana Bafana were already assured of their highest placing in a Confederations Cup.

"We gave our all. We made it very difficult for them but I'm very, very devastated. The boys deserve credit," South Africa captain Aaron Mokoena said. "If you switch off against teams like this you get punished and that's what happened. With both [Guiza] goals we could have done better."

It was a fairly even first 45 minutes of play, as both sides split possession and had opportunities to break the 0-0 deadlock.

Hosts come close

The best chance of the half came from the home nation. Midfielder Siphiwe Tshabalala fired a shot from the top of the penalty area that Spanish keeper Iker Casillas parried.

The ball fell to defender Matthew Booth just outside the six-yard box on the left side, but he missed wide of the target.

In the second half, the European champions started to impose their will on the host nation.

Only two minutes after play restarted for the second half, Spain's Sergio Busquets thought he had a goal after he put the ball in the net after a Villa shot from outside the penalty area, but he (and two other teammates) were clearly offside.

The European giants again threatened in the 63rd minute.

Albert Riera played a brilliant one-two with Santi Cazorla just outside the box that sent him through the left side of South Africa's defence. But keeper Khune made a great save in close to keep the game scoreless.

Thrilling finish

But it was the Bafana Bafana who struck first as the match suddenly screamed to life in the final 20 minutes of play.

A clever ball from South Africa's Elrio Van Heerden in the 73rd minute found Tshabalala free on the left side.

Tshabalala crossed it into the middle of the penalty area, which was met by a surprisingly unmarked Mphela in the middle of the Spanish six-yard box.

The 24-year-old took a touch, and then powered it into the net past Casillas, sparking celebrations from the home supporters.

Then, with less than two minutes away from stoppage time, the vuvuzelas fell silent around the ground, as Spanish substitute Daniel Guiza controlled a Santi Cazorla cross in the box and sent a shot by South African keeper Khune to even the score.

One minute later, Guiza struck again, fooling Khune with a lob from the right side of the pitch to make the score 2-1, and it looked Spain was headed for victory.

But with fans heading for the exits as time ticked away, the Bafana Bafana got a free kick a few yards outside the penalty area with two of the three stoppage time minutes gone.

And Mphela delivered again, putting the ball over the Spanish wall and by Casillas for his second of the match to square the tie 2-2.

Unlikely extra session

It ended up being the last action of regulation time, and both teams prepared for an extra session of play they probably weren't expecting.

Spain and South Africa both had chances to score before Alonso's winner.

Khune was almost fooled again in the 94th minute, as Spain's Joan Capdevilla crossed a ball in from the left side that went over the keeper but hit the crossbar.

Casillas was forced to then make two saves off South African shots, as Mphela and Bernard Parker both had chances to score in the 100th and 104th minutes.

But after Alonso's goal in the 107th minute, Spain played solid defence to close out the hard-fought victory.

The United States faces Brazil in the Confederations Cup final later Sunday (CBC, CBCSports.ca, 2 p.m. ET).

With files from The Associated Press