Perhaps unsurprisingly, the fireworks we saw in the previous match between Spain and the US were unsustainable. When the host country South Africa played Brazil on Thursday evening there was little in the way of eye-catching surprises or extraordinary upsets, but it's fair to say we came relatively close to one.
One gets the feeling that Brazil often play on auto-pilot and evidence of this was seen here against their African opponents. Without the need to make any rash, ill thought out gestures, they have the innate ability to pass the ball around until fate decrees that an opportunity presents itself. When it does, they try to score, but if they don’t, no worries – another chance generally comes along shortly after anyway.
The downside to this approach (if indeed there is one) is that the Brazilians sometimes give the impression they’re not bothered about scoring goals and winning matches. Far from the truth as that may be, it certainly gives teams like South Africa the belief that they can win and there were signs in this match that they might.
In the first half, the hosts went straight for the jugular with several decent chances that left Brazil in no doubt they’d have to fight for their place in the Final. Siboniso Gaxa went close early on with a decent 30-yard effort that was only just wide, while new Portsmouth signing Aaron Mokoena headed just over the bar with 20 minutes on the clock. Tsepo Masilela watched his shot tipped over by Julio Cesar shortly after and, for a while, there looked like being only one team in this match.
Brazil, however, managed to rally round as the end of the first half approached and it was Kaka that seemed most intent on engineering something with a range of passing and shooting that briefly threatened a goal against the run of play.
Into the second half and Brazil picked up from where they left off – Kaka heading over the bar – but the South Africans were soon back in the game as Everton’s Steven Pienaar pulled more and more strings in midfield. Shortly after one of his own shots was saved, Teko Modise went close to opening the scoring when his deflected effort had to be tipped wide by Julio Cesar.
With Brazil showing signs of laxity in the way they were converting their chances, the South Africans would have been justified in thinking they’d at least force the game into extra time. Sadly for them it was not to be. In the 82nd minute, Barcelona right back Daniel Alves came on to replace Andre Santos and the effect was emphatic. Only six minutes later, a Mokoena foul led to Alves curling a beautiful free kick beyond the reach of Itumeleng Khune to effectively seal the win for the South Americans.
The defeat must have been hard to take for Joel Santana’s men after they’d showed so much spirit and determination throughout the game, but the Bafana Bafana can take great succour from their performance. But for a better choice of top quality finishers, they’d have probably wrapped the game up by the early part of the second half, but at least the end of their Confederations Cup campaign isn’t entirely shrouded in despair.
After a dismal run of form over the last year or two, they’ve finally instilled a sense of optimism and respect in their fans and observers worldwide, and many now think they’re capable of a decent run in the World Cup when it arrives next year.
As for Brazil, they’ll no doubt go most (if not all) of the way towards lifting the trophy on this basis. Despite being well short of the classic Brazilian teams of the past, they’re at least capable of achieving much while just in auto-pilot, and that in itself is quite something.