Santana anxious for Bafana to keep learning

June 21st, 2009 - 3:10 pm ICT by IANS  

By Brendon Hanley
Bloemfontein, June 21 (DPA) After losing 0-2 to Spain in the Confederation Cup Saturday, South Africa’s coach and players discussed the value of playing both the reigning European champions and a semi-final possibly against five-time World Cup champions Brazil.

“Matches like tonight are very good for my players,” said Bafana Bafana’s Brazil-born coach Joel Santana, who clearly has one eye on next year’s World Cup finals. “Playing these good teams and competing in semi-finals is the best way to get the preparation we need before next summer.”

It was a sentiment echoed by a number of key players for the 1996 African champions, who failed to qualify for next year’s African Cup of Nations in Angola but qualify for the World Cup finals as hosts.

“Even though we lost, this will only help us,” said midfielder Steven Pienaar. “We learned a lesson that if you lose concentration even for a minute against the big sides, they take advantage of it.”

The biggest lapse in concentration came moments after what seemed like a highlight for the team, when goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune saved David Villa’s penalty kick in the 51st minute. But Villa, who now has 31 goals in 47 international appearances, made amends the following minute by opening the scoring when left unmarked at the top of the area.

“I think we just got a bit too excited after the penalty save,” said central defender Matthew Booth. “And against a team like Spain, they know how to take advantage of that. It was a learning experience for us playing them.”

The man who gave the penalty away, captain Aaron Mokoena, saw the value in the contest and was looking forward to the semi-final.

“It’s not every day you take on a team as good as Spain, but it’s always good to test yourself against the best,” said the new Portsmouth man. “We’re in the semi-finals now, which was a big goal for us. We’re excited to be able to keep giving our all in the tournament.”

Awaiting the South Africa in the semi-final will probably be Brazil, who would need to lose to Italy by two goals Sunday to get knocked off their perch in Group B. Egypt have an outside chance of winning the group, but they would need to beat the United States, hope Italy win in the other match and make up goal difference on the Azzurri.

Looking ahead to the contest, Mokoena’s central defensive partner Matthew Booth said to expect even more from the hosts.

“It was difficult for us to attack a team like Spain knowing that we could definitely go through with a point,” said the Mamelodi Sundowns player. “In the semi-final, you’ll see a different team. If it’s Brazil or Italy or Egypt, it doesn’t matter. In the knockout stage, you need to win, and we want to put on a good show.”

Santana summed up the task ahead: “Against Spain we didn’t play great, but we will play better in the semi-final, no matter who we play. And then at the World Cup, we will play even better.”

Related Stories

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Posted in Sports |