JOHANNESBURG // Some days you just know that luck is not on your side. But even Iraq's relieved defenders must be wondering this morning what South Africa's Bernard Parker has done to deserve the cruel twist of fate that kept the opening game of the Confederations Cup goalless last night. Bora Milutinovic's side ended the match with a very creditable draw against the hosts and a platform on which to build for their next two group-stage games, against Spain and New Zealand. But how Bafana Bafaana did not end the night as victors is one of life's mysteries.
They looked certain to score with 10 minutes to go when Thembinkosi Fanteni's stooping header from a deep cross raced towards the net with the goalkeeper beaten. But astonishingly Parker, in his attempts to follow up the effort, got in the way and as the ball hit him on the back it effectively produced a goal-line clearance that Iraqi defenders could not have bettered. In the end though both teams had something to be pleased about from a combative draw.
South Africa, who have failed to qualify for next year's African Cup of Nations, gave glimpses of their promise with a rousing finish which had a packed house swaying, swinging and sounding their horns. And Iraq, who failed to even reach the final stages of qualifying for the 2010 World Cup, begun their revival with a disciplined performance in which they stifled South Africa in the first half and then defended doggedly after the break.
Ever since their 2007 Asian Cup triumph, when Younis Mahmoud scored the winning goal that broke Saudi hearts, there has been a new level of expectation in Iraq that the team has found difficult to deal with. But with an average age of just 24 years and eight months, their squad does still have promise as midfielder Nashat Akram, who has just earned himself a move to FC Twente in Holland, insisted afterwards.
He said: "It was good for us to take one point. We got our tactics right and we did very well. The next game is very tough because Spain are such a good team. But we've made a good start and we want to get to the semi-finals." The Iraqis looked comfortable in a tentative first half in which neither side was able to gain the upper hand, although Macbeth Sibaya came very close with a swirling shot that was tipped around the post by goalkeeper Mohammed Kassid who had an excellent match.
But the visitors found it more difficult after the break as South Africa, with Modise becoming more influential, dominated possession and went close through Parker, Fanteni and Kallego Mashego. And then came Parker's nightmare moment. "I felt so bad for him," said Modise. "He is only a young lad and he was substituted straight away afterwards. But all the team have spoken to him and I think he's a strong person, he'll come back and so will we."