Bulgaria give Bafana reality check

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SOWETO, May 24 – World Cup hosts South Africa received a timely reality check on Monday when held 1-1 by non-qualifiers Bulgaria in a warm-up match.Cock-a-hoop after a record-equalling four-goal thumping of Thailand eight days ago, the home team dominated from the kick-off at Orlando Stadium and took a 20th-minute lead through defender Siyabonga Sangweni.

But a Bulgarian team 51 places above Bafana Bafana (The Boys) on the FIFA world rankings equalised through highly rated striker Valeri Bojinov soon after and matched their rivals during a dull second half.

South Africa continue their countdown to the June 11-July 11 tournament with a friendly against Colombia at Soccer City on May 27 before concluding their preparations by playing Denmark in Pretoria next month.

The first African country to stage the quadrennial showcase of international football, South Africa are outsiders in Group A which includes Mexico and former champions France and Uruguay.

"I am happy with the performance because Bulgaria provided the sort of high-level opposition we will face during the World Cup," said South Africa coach Carlos Alberto Parreira.

"We were on top in the first half while finding it difficult to penetrate at times and Bulgaria scored from the only chance they created. The game suffered in the second half because both sides made a lot of changes.

"Colombia will present a different type of challenge on Thursday – more skill, more technique, more ball on the ground," said the man who led his native Brazil to 1994 World Cup glory in Los Angeles.

Parreira has been preaching shape and possession since the beginning of the year and he could afford a rare smile early on as his players dominated against rivals content to defend in depth.

The first clash between the countries burst into life on 11 minutes when goalkeeper Nikolay Mihaylov failed to hold a Teko Modise free kick only for three South Africans to charge at the resultant cross and the ball flew wide.

Mihaylov from Dutch champions Twente consistently failed to hold shots and crosses and was finally found out when Sangweni rose unchallenged at the far post and sent a glancing header into the net for his first international goal.

Taking the lead had a surprisingly negative effect on the home team who surrendered the initiative and it came as no surprise when Bulgaria levelled with 31 minutes gone on a dry, chilly night in the black township of Soweto.

As the ball ran loose just inside the South African penalty area, Parma striker Bojinov demonstrated why he is seen as a successor to retired star Dimitar Berbatov with a clinical low shot that flew past Itumeleng Khune.

South Africa reacted positively to the setback and ended the opening half back on the offensive, looking dangerous from set pieces while Mihaylov contineud to be uncomfortable whenever under pressure.

Parreira, who began with an all-local line-up skippered by Modise, brought on captain Aaron Mokoena, fellow defender Tsepo Masilela and midfielder Kagisho Dikgacoi of overseas-based contingent for the second half.

With both coaches making substitutions at regular intervals the game lost its rhythm and excitement and Bulgaria held their own in largely featureless exchanges.

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