SOWETO, South Africa, January 19 – South Africa got their Africa Cup of Nations campaign off to a limp start here Saturday when debutants Cape Verde held the disappointing former champions to a goalless draw.
On this evidence the 2013 hosts will have to show marked improvement in their next Group A games against Angola and Morocco if they are to avoid a humiliating first round exit.
Cape Verde were the moral winners, producing the two best chances of this Cup curtain-raiser in front of a near 90,000 crowd at Soccer City.
The only time the vuvuzela-blowing fans fell totally silent was for President Jacob Zuma’s opening address — the head of state’s head protected by the lone umbrella in the stadium with his citizens banned from bringing theirs for security reasons.
South Africa coach Gordon Igesund made four changes from last weekend’s drab goalless draw against Algeria — with Bernard Parker and Lehlohonolo Majoro in attack.
For Cape Verde, marshalled by dreadlocked skipper Nando Neves, this was the mother of all baptism of fires, playing the hosts in front of a partisan crowd in the stadium that hosted the final of the 2010 World Cup.
But in contrast to Niger 12 months ago, who suffered a bad stage of stage fright on their debut, Luis Antunes’s men held their own in a tepid first period.
They even had the best chance of the half, from Platini, but he failed to live up to his famous namesake’s artistry by pulling his shot badly wide.
With only half a million inhabitants, Cape Verde are the smallest country to compete in the African showcase.
Yet, having stunned Cameroon to make the finals and placed 15 rungs above South Africa in FIFA’s world rankings, they weren’t about to assume the role of Group A whipping boys, going into the break marginally the stronger of the two teams.
Igesund tinkered with his team for the second half, replacing Crystal Palace midfielder Kagisho Dikgacoi with Lerato Chabangu and on the hour he took off Siphiwe Tshabalala for Ajax midfielder Thulani Serero.
Antunes made his first change soon after, with Julio Tavares coming on for Platini, but not before the French-based player had picked up the game’s second booking.
South Africa, winners on home soil in 1996, may have upped the tempo but Cape Verde were still holding their own in tricky playing conditions on a recently-relaid pitch hit by a pre-match deluge.
Desperate to get early points on the board, Igesund introduced Sundowns striker Katlego Mphela for Majoro but soon after he watched as his side were fortunate to escape when Heldon’s header was kept out by keeper Itumeleng Khune’s quick reflexes.