Thrilling match bids Madiba farewell
There was no winner in the Mandela Farewell match on Tuesday night, when the African XI held the Fifa World XI to an entertaining 2-2 draw at Ellis Park - and so it should've been.
After such a thrill-a-minute encounter, it would've been tough for anyone to walk away being declared a victor.
It was evident, from the start of this encounter, that both teams were determined to not only showcase their skills - but also to entertain the fans and more so the former South African President, Nelson Mandela, as the nation bade him a fond farewell.
The first 45 minutes was as entertaining as it was revealing. The World XI were strong in all departments and led by veteran Brazilian warhorse Carlos Dunga, who kept his cool at all times, were difficult to break down in defence.
The African XI, however, were quick on the counterbreak and at times came close to breaking past Mexican goalkeeper Jorges Campos, who made up for his lack of height with his agility and quick-wittedness.
There were a few players in the World XI who struggled to get to terms with their game, none more so than French international Jean-Pierre Papin, who was kept well under wraps by African XI trio Lucas Radebe, John Mbidzo and Mark Fish.
Another who displayed a pale shadow of his true ability was Ecuadorian striker Eduardo Hurtado. Try as hard as he may, he could not break down the African XI defensive mechanism.
Both Hurtado and fellow striker Papin got a steady supply of ball from the influential German midfielder Thomas Haessler, who was by far the most inventive player in the side.
It was Haessler who created a number of openings as he cut down the right flank and sent in inviting crosses, which somehow evaded the decisive touch from his frontline to break the ice.
African XI goalkeeper Williams Okpara was kept busy by the wiles of Haessler, as well as Ghanaian veteran striker Abedi Pele. In one such move in the 19th minute, Pele was set free by Haessler, but his low shot lacked power to trouble a diving Okpara.
His intentions were also thwarted by Fish in the 32nd minute when Dunga found Pele with a long-range pass from deep in his own half - but the striker's hesitation lost him the opportunity.
The African XI were full of ideas, with Zambian international Kalusha Bwalya and classy Sundowns playmaker Roger Feutmba combining well to set up numerous chances. But lanky striker Efan Ekoku and Bafana Bafana marksman Phil Masinga were smartly smothered by Dunga and company.
Bwalya and Feutmba's mastery on the ball was evident in the first half. For instance, as early as the fourth minute Bwalya collected the ball and cleverly back-heeled past the World XI defence to set Tijani Babangida through - but Campos was quick off his line to stop the danger.
Four minutes later it was Feutmba's turn to take centre stage and his neat play saw Ekoku in space. Again it was the diminutive keeper who intervened.
Babangida also showed his skills as he dribbled past two defenders in the 24th minute, with Campos to the rescue once again to deny the African XI a goal.
Both sides certainly played an open, attacking game in this stanza and the excited crowd of about 25 000 deserved to be rewarded with at least one goal from either side.
Both coaches - World XI Roy Hodgson and African XI Jomo Sono - made a number of changes after the break. Off went Papin, Pele, Saleh Al-Dawood and Campos for Morocco's Mustapha Hadji, Norwegian Stig Bjornbye, Slovak Lubomir Moravcik and goalkeeper Jacques Songo'o of Cameroon.
Sono brought in Brian Baloyi for William Okpara, Egyptian Hossam Hassan for Ekoku, Joel Masilela for Frank Amankwah, Steve Lekoelea for Thabo Mngomeni and Thabang Lebese for Masinga (later on in the half).
The game changed dramatically as the new men increased the tempo for the sides. The African XI broke the ice when Masinga swept down the right flank, cut in and sent in an inviting cross, with Bwalya scoring a brilliant goal over a flat-footed Songo'o in the 52nd minute.
The African XI had hardly settled down when Haessler had the ball at the back of the net to level 1-1 a minute later.
Masinga suffered a cruel double blow in the 64th minute. He was dispossessed in front of the opposition box and the ball worked to Hurtado, who slipped a pass to Haessler. The German's cross found Moravck and he rifled it past Baloyi to make it 2-1. Masinga was replaced minutes later.
There was a bit of drama in the 69th minute when Senegal referee Sella Ndoye adjudged that Babangida had been fouled by Jeff Agoos and a penalty was awarded. The assistant referee intervened and flagged for an offside instead.
After a sustained period of pressurising the World XI defence, the African XI won a free kick in the 92nd minute and Bwlaya planted a superb low drive past Songo'o to level matters.
It was a fitting end to an enthralling encounter. - Sapa