x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Hosts can cope on biggest stage

South Africa could not quite give the Confederations Cup an upset that would have upstaged Spain's defeat against the USA.

The South Africa coach Joel Santana, centre, with his players after the 1-0 loss to Brazil.
The South Africa coach Joel Santana, centre, with his players after the 1-0 loss to Brazil.

JOHANNESBURG // South Africa could not quite give the Confederations Cup an upset that would have upstaged Spain's defeat against the USA but their performance against Brazil in the semi-final, where they lost 1-0 to a late Daniel Alves free-kick, has laid solid foundations for next year's World Cup.

There were serious concerns going into this tournament that the hosts, having conquered their problems off the pitch, would instead crumble on it and fail to create the kind of enthusiasm, excitement and patriotism that a World Cup thrives on. But the improvement in Joel Santana's team since an uninspired draw against Iraq in the opening match has been impressive. It began with victory over New Zealand and culminated on Thursday with a display against Brazil that combined technical excellence in midfield and discipline in defence to such aplomb that the South Americans, Kaka and all, struggled to create chances.

There is still a lack of firepower for Santana to contend with but defender Matthew Booth, who has been one of the faces of this tournament having gained iconic status with the home crowd, believes South Africa will take great encouragement from their campaign. "This tournament has given the team a lot of confidence," he said. "It was bitterly disappointing to lose to Brazil in the last couple of minutes after we had done so well during the game to nullify their danger players. But I'm sure we'll take a lot of heart from the performance and hopefully the public will keep behind us like they have done over the last couple of weeks and we'll take that into the World Cup. We could surprise people.

"Team spirit has improved and so has tactical awareness. We're very comfortable on the field and have come out of the tournament with a lot of credit." For Brazil, there are no major worries about how they will perform next year. They can look back on some excellent performances here in South Africa as well as two poor performances, including Thursday's, when they played badly but still had the heart to score late winners, in this case a stunning 88th-minute free-kick from Alves that sets up a final against the USA tomorrow.

"Playing South Africa was a very, tough game. We suffered a lot to win," said Kaka. "Each team play in a different way and Brazil are ready to play against everybody." sports@thenational.ae