It is winter in South Africa at the moment, and it was a winter of discontent in Johannesburg this afternoon as South Africa played out an energy-sappingly drab goalless draw to open this year’s Confederations Cup. South Africa’s performance was poor enough for questions to be asked about whether they will become the first host nation in the history of the World Cup to not qualify from their group in the final stages of the competition. Iraq, a team already knocked out of next year’s World Cup by Qatar in the Third Round of the AFC qualifying stage, looked like a decent enough team but offered little threat of beating the host nation, but still came away from the match with a point after South Africa missed a stack of chances including one of the worst misses of the year in the closing stages of the match.
On an overcast day, and with the droning sound of thousands of vuvuzelas (plastic horns which, when blown in unison, make the sound of a plague of locusts) constantly in the background, South Africa offered little promise of being much better than most of the dismal reviews of their recent progress have been. Macbeth Sibayo had a long rang shot well saved by the Iraq goalkeeper Mohammed Kassid and substitute Katlego Mashego broke through only to see his shot smothered by Kassid. Other than that, however, there was a lot of huff and a lot of puff from South Africa, but even the comparatively weak homestead of the Iraqi defence didn’t get blown down.
South Africa’s best chance to win the match came with five minutes to go. Kassid misjudged a cross from the right and Kagisho Dikgacoi had a free header on goal. Dikgacoi headed across goal and the ball was goalbound, but team mate Bernard Parker, perhaps smelling a small moment of glory, tried to turn the ball over from a yard out, only to see the ball bounce off his backside and away from the goal. It kind of summed up South Africa’s day. By the dying seconds, Iraq were running the ball into the corner of the pitch and playing for time. They knew very well that a win against New Zealand might just be enough to sneak them through to the semi-finals if they could avoid defeat against South Africa and other results go their way.
On paper, the crowd of over 48,000 for the opening fixture sounds like a good attendance, but this was a match featuring the host nation and it was the opening match of the tournament. It was also widely reported that tickets had been being given away to companies to distribute to employees in order to make the matches seem better attended. After the match, it feels rather as if the balloon has deflated. Spain play New Zealand in this evening’s match in Rustenburg, with a thumping win being the European Champions’ minimum requirement. Lord alone know we need some goals after this afternoon’s efforts.