Commentary

So much for experience

The new-look U.S. team defeated South Africa 1-0

Updated: November 18, 2010, 12:13 AM ET
By Firdose Moonda | Special to ESPN.com

CAPE TOWN -- The U.S. won its second Nelson Mandela Challenge in four years after beating Bafana Bafana 1-0 at the Cape Town Stadium on Wednesday. The Stars and Stripes previously won the trophy in 2007, when it beat South Africa by the same score in Johannesburg. Bafana Bafana have not scored a goal against their American counterparts in four meetings.

Here's how the match went down:

The Build-Up

Capetonians have waited almost three years to see their national football team, and their desperation became evident by Wednesday afternoon. The city center had become a swarm of yellow, awash with people wearing their Bafana Bafana shirts. By the end of the working day, the city's social nucleus, Long Street, had become a hive of activity. Supporters were gathering for pregame drinks and snacks and beginning their journey to the stadium, armed with their vuvuzelas. In the end, 55,000 strong sold out the stadium.

The first 20 minutes

Bafana Bafana owned the field in this period, with two clear-cut chances. Leeds United striker Davide Somma, who grew up in the U.S., didn't sing any of the words to the South African national anthem, but he showed heart on the field after the whistle blew. He went down in the box in the 10th minute and appealed loudly for a penalty that was not granted. Three minutes later, Somma provided Anele Ngcongca with the perfect through ball on the right flank, but the defender couldn't capitalize.

Missed opportunities

The U.S.'s only real chance of the first half came in the 22nd minute. Robbie Rogers fired a bullet from the edge of the box through two defenders and forced Itumeleng Khune into his first save of the match. Steven Pienaar worked well in the Bafana midfield and, together with Tsepo Masilela, opened up gaps for the home side. But there was no one to complete the movements the pair started. South Africa went into the break with more of the possession, but nothing to show for it.

American attack

A more inspired U.S. side took to the field in the second half with Teal Bunbury coming on for Robbie Findley. The visitors sent waves of aggression into Bafana's half. Alejandro Bedoya delivered a decent ball to Eddie Gaven in the 52nd minute before Ngcongca cleared the ball. Bunbury created a chance in the 54th minute and had a shot at goal, but Khune was unchallenged in securing the ball safely.

Substitution time

On the hour mark, South Africa made two switches, with Orlando Pirates midfielder Andile Jali coming on for Kagisho Dikgacoi and Stembiso Ngcobo replacing Somma, who left the field to a standing ovation. For the U.S., Rogers made way for teenager and New York Red Bulls forward Juan Agudelo. In the space of six minutes, Bafana had three shots off target. The U.S.'s well-organized defense was watertight and Bafana could not break through.

Agudelo shoots, he scores

The U.S. had barely threatened in the second half, but the Americans made the most of one half-chance. Mikkel Diskerud's ingenious pass to Agudelo in the 84th minute allowed the teenager to chip the ball over Khune at the near post to put the visitors ahead. Agudelo, scoring in his national team debut, became the youngest player to score for the U.S. men's national team.

Man of the match

Somma, South Africa's own prodigal son, could have opted to play for Italy or the U.S., but he chose the land of his birth and showed promise on his debut. He admitted that he didn't know any of the Bafana players well and that he would have to spend time learning about his teammates' style of play. Somma told reporters before the match that he wanted to "destroy" the U.S. But he wasn't able to inflict damage this time.

The verdict

Resilient American spirit prevailed as Bafana Bafana failed to take advantage of the numerous chances they created. By contrast, the U.S. cashed in when it mattered most. The Stars and Stripes' defense was commendable; even when the hosts got desperate and sent balls flying across the box in the final five minutes, it kept them at bay. Bob Bradley's baby, Agudelo, became a man in the space of 40 minutes, and made a statement for the level of depth in the U.S.'s soccer ranks. The big question now is whether Agudelo can continue to develop as a player so the U.S. can rely on him in bigger matches.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNSoccernet's South African correspondent.

Firdose Moonda

ESPN

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