Bafana Bafana went down 1-0 to Norway in Cape Town on Tuesday in a warm-up match for the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations. For South Africa, as has long been the case, finishing proved to be a problem.
Coach Gordon Igesund, who looked frustrated at times during the match, put a positive spin on matters after the contest. "Of course I am disappointed with the loss," he said, "but I am happy that we have shown much improvement from our previous matches.
"What is important is that we are now creating a lot of chances and we are close to getting it right. We were just unlucky tonight because we could have been at least three goals in the lead at the end of the first half," he added.
'They will learn from this experience'
Looking ahead, Igesund said: "We need to use our ball possession better but that will come, come the Afcon tournament. I am glad the players made mistakes in this match and not in the tournament, so that we are able to rectify where we are going wrong. They will learn from this experience."
Captain Bongani Khumalo suggested Bafana needed to show more urgency in the opposing box, saying: "We played a good brand of football, but maybe at times we should get more ugly in the box and gamble. But these are the things we will work on."
At first, Bafana Bafana struggled to settle as they struggled to string passes together. When they did, they lacked penetration.
After 15 minutes, however, the home team found a cutting edge when Reneilwe Letsholonyane picked out striker Katlego Mphela just outside the box on the right. Mphela smartly turned his marker and got off a shot that goalkeeper blocked with his right leg.
Just minutes later, Siphiwe Tshabalala almost played Mphela in. The striker beat one defender, but the last man hacked the ball away to prevent Mphela getting a shot off.
Norway responded with an attack of their own, but captain Tarik Elyounoussi failed to make contact with Erik Huseklepp's dangerous cross to the far post.
After a strong run, Thuso Phala fired in a cross for Mphela. The Norwegian central defenders cut it out, but the ball bounced high in the air, close to Lerato Chabangu. He went down under a challenge as the ball was scrambled behind for a corner and his claims for a penalty were brushed aside by the referee.
In the 24th minute, Bjorn Helge Riise let rip from outside the South African area with a first-time effort, forcing goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune to parry the ball to his right before collecting it at the second attempt.
Just after the half-hour mark, fullback Anele Ngcongca joined in an attack and was played in by Kagisho Dikgacoi. He should have shot from close range, but instead crossed when he had ample time to shoot.
Ten minutes before the break, Phala rounded the Nigerian defence on the right and sprinted in on goal. He slid a pass into the six-yard box, forcing goalkeeper Jarstein to dive and knock the ball away from his goal. It went just past Mphela and towards Letsholonyane, who nipped the ball past two defenders before it was desperately cleared it to safety by a third.
Five minutes from the break, Risse picked out Elyounoussi in the South African box. The Norwegian skipper broke inside, taking the ball wide of two defenders as he headed towards the middle of the box, which at the same time opened up a couple of angles for him. He left-footed shot comfortably beat Khune to his left, giving the visitors the lead.
The first chance of the second half went Bafana Bafana's way when Phala sent substitute striker Tokelo Rantie clear. Rantie's first touch was a little heavy, however, and Jarstein was able to block the shot with his legs. Phala followed up, but his shot was stopped by one of three defenders covering the goalkeeper.
In the 65th minute, Norway attacked down the right flank. There were plenty of defenders back when the low cross came in, but captain Bongani Khumalo was caught in a difficult position and the ball deflected towards Elyounoussi on the edge of the box. The Norwegian captain fired, but Khumalo put his body on the line to stop the shot.
South Africa surged back onto the attack. Phala was picked up with a lovely through ball, which gave him space on the right. His cross to Thulani Serero, another of the substitutes, forced Jarstein into a brave save at the feet of the South African attacker, mere metres from the goal.
The home team kept pressing, forcing Norway to concede a number of corners. From one of them, the Norwegians were almost caught out when Serero was able to receive a ball to his feet deep inside the box. His strike, though, hit the body of a defender and was cleared.
With only five minutes to go, Phala should have scored when the ball was cut back to him, but he fired over the crossbar from the edge of the six-yard box, raising oohs and aahs from the crowd.
Norway held on to triumph 1-0 in a game that South Africa dominated. The home team deserved a goal given their control of the contest, but their finishing undid an otherwise decent performance.