LACK of experience cost Bafana Bafana a major upset in world soccer yesterday.
That was the sobering opinion of Bafana head coach Joel Santana after Spain, the top-ranked side in the world, needed extra time and a 107th minute goal by Liverpool midfielder Xabi Alonso to earn the European champions a 3-2 extra-time victory and third-place finish in the Confederations Cup over Bafana at an emotion-charged Royal Bafokeng Stadium yesterday afternoon.
Bafana had matched the European champions man for man in this nail-biting Confederations Cup playoff. Particularly impressive was two-goal striker Katlego Mphela.
But Santana said of the 107th minute free kick that Bafana defender Matthew Booth conceded on the edge of the penalty area - when he pulled down substitute Fernando Llorente: "I am not sure that it was a free kick.
"But there are a lot of good things to come out of this tournament. We lacked experience but the only way to gain this experience is by playing the world's best teams in tournaments like the Confederations Cup.
"We improved with every game. It took Brazil 88 minutes to score against us in the semis and Spain needed extra time to beat us. We have to be doing something right."
Santana said he had a year to make the squad battle-ready for the 2010 World Cup and was confident Bafana would be a force to be reckoned with in 2010. He was also full of praise for Mphela.
Spain coach Vincente de Bosque conceded that Bafana had shocked his European champions.
"South Africa excelled against us in the first half by playing attacking soccer. They did well. But we learnt from our mistakes against the US in the semis."
Santana made some strange decisions on the field but one of his clever ones was to introduce Katlego Mphela in the 64th minute for Steven Pienaar.
Pienaar had bossed the midfield but Santana said he was tiring. However, it was still a gamble to replace his midfield kingpin with Mphela.
But the Mamelodi Sundowns striker, who had a poor season in the PSL, came up trumps, scoring both goals - the second a candidate for Goal of the Tournament with the last kick of regulation time. - Sapa