Group A Spain 2 South Africa 0 Mangaung/Bloemfontein
Hosts South Africa needed a draw against Spain last night to progress to the semi-finals, but in the end even that wasn’t necessary. With Iraq and New Zealand playing out a goalless draw at the same time in Johannesburg, South Africa could afford their defeat at the hands of the European champions.
Spain, as we’ve seen before in this Confederations Cup, set off at a great pace, testing South African ‘keeper Itumeleng Khune on several occasions. Their slick passing and movement remain a delight to watch and against a weak defence they can be devastating, but in Khune they found someone between the sticks that was determined to shut them out.
Six minutes into the second half and the South African number 16 made his main claim for the Man of the Match award after Cesc Fabregas was felled in his penalty area. Not satisfied with saving David Villa’s penalty, he also caught the resulting follow-up shot from Carles Puyol to keep the score at 0-0.
Sadly for Khune, that scoreline would only be the case for a further minute as Spain launched another attack. Riera chipped through a harmless ball into the penalty and with his back to goal David Villa deftly turned and shot in one movement to give his side a 1-0 lead.
Joel Santana’s men fought back but up front they looked blunt in comparison to the Europeans. With 72 minutes gone, Spain showed their class again when substitute Fernando Llorente managed to divert Cesc Fabregas’ wayward shot into the net and with that a victory was pretty much assured.
The game ended 2-0 to Spain and they were through to the semis, but South Africa’s fate wasn’t immediately apparent as they had to wait for the result to come through from Johannesburg. When it did, both sets of players were able to celebrate following a decent First Round campaign – particularly so for the Spanish.
Group A Iraq 0 New Zealand 0 Johannesburg
Given the chances of either side to progress to the semi-finals, it was perhaps surprising that they managed to put on the show they did. Obviously the 23,295 supporters inside the Ellis Park Stadium thought there was the potential for a good game, and though there were no goals, both teams did their best to notch up a goal or two.
To be brutally honest, both Iraq and New Zealand were guilty of not putting away the chances they generated, but at least there were chances in the first place. The All Whites (playing in all black on this occasion) have particularly tried to play defensively in this competition, but they created a few good openings here.
Celtic’s Chris Killen had a couple of first half opportunities which he saw fit to put over the bar while Shane Smeltz twice opted for the wide-of-the-post option instead. The Kiwis were undoubtedly creating the better chances before the break, but after it they had to defend sternly as Iraq came back on the front foot.
Iraqi coach Bora Milutinovic threw on a couple of forwards during the second half in an attempt to gain advantage from South Africa’s demise against Spain, but New Zealand defended well and the threat of either team scoring was neutralised long before the final whistle went.
The game ended goalless, but both teams had shown good spirit and the All Whites even picked up their first Confederations Cup point in the process. No-one, however, could deny that the best two teams had progressed to the semis and it’ll be interesting seeing how they deal with the might of their Group B counterparts next Wednesday and Thursday.