Football: Equality no use to South Africans

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South Africa 2 Bartlett 19, pen 90 Saudi Arabia 2 Al-Jaber pen 45, Al-Thyniyan pen 73 Att: 34,500

SOUTH AFRICA failed in their last-ditch attempt to stay in the World Cup yesterday when they could only draw 2-2 with an already eliminated Saudi Arabia side.

The match featured three penalties, two to the Saudis and one to South Africa. Shaun Bartlett raised South African hopes of the win they needed to have any chance of overtaking Denmark for second place in Group C with a sweet left-foot drive from a tight angle in the 19th minute, latching on to a long ball from the deep. But Sami Al-Jaber made it 1-1 with a penalty on the stroke of half-time and the Saudis took the lead with 17 minutes to go when their captain, Youssef Al-Thyniyan, converted their second spot-kick.

The South Africans salvaged some pride when they were awarded the third penalty of the game in the last minute. Bartlett took the kick to collect his second goal of the game.

South Africa, using their physical power to force past the lighter Saudis, had much the better of the first half and Benedict McCarthy had several good chances stopped by the athletic goalkeeper, Mohammed Al-Daye, or blocked by a sometimes stretched but nimble Saudi defence well marshalled by Abdullah Zebramawi.

Shortly before half-time, however, their repeated penetrating runs into the box brought their rewards when the imposing Marseilles defender Pierre Issa was adjudged by the Chilean referee to have brought down Al-Thyniyan.

Al-Jaber, the chief tormentor of the South African defence, stepped up to stroke home the spot-kick past Hans Vonk for the Saudis' first goal of the tournament. They had let in four against France and one against Denmark.

South Africa's French coach, Philippe Troussier, sent on Jerry Sikhosana for McCarthy at half-time and replaced the defender Willem Jackson with the more attacking Delron Buckley. That nearly paid dividends when Buckley surged down the park from the half-way line, brushing aside a series of challenges before finding himself blocked in the box.

The South Africans, as before, had the best of the pressure in the second half but the winner would not come. Zebramawi got up well to head clear just in front of Bartlett's searching head in the 68th minute but Al-Daye in goal was rarely tested.

The Saudis continued to be dangerous on the break and when the substitute Ibrahim Al-Shahrani was felled in the box - again by Issa - the 34-year- old Al-Thyniyan, winning his 88th cap, stepped up to convert the penalty. But they were denied a win by Bartlett's last-minute equaliser.

Troussier said there were lessons to be learned from South Africa's failure to reach the second round. "We have time after this World Cup to sit down and to recall the lessons. We can talk about everything," the Frenchman said.

"It was a great experience for everybody," Troussier added. "It was a very great opportunity for South Africa to take its potential in front of the world.

"Now we are finished. We need to accept the result. We finished with two points. It's not a bad World Cup," he added. "We expected more. It was not the case. We need to accept it, we need to continue to work and believe in our potential."

The Saudi midfielder, Nawaf Al-Temiyat, said: "We feel we had a very good match. The result is very honourable. I thank our supporters. It will be better next time."