THE opener was a disappointment and the second match an appetiser, but yesterday evening in Bloemfontein the 2009 Confederations Cup sprang to life as Brazil eked out a 4-3 win over Egypt.
Brazil coach Dunga put his team’s lethargic second-half performance down to jet lag, having only arrived on Friday after World Cup qualifiers last week against Uruguay and Paraguay, but Egypt showed they are a world-class side by fighting back from 3-1 down to equalise before being foiled by Kaka’s 90th-minute penalty.
This is what hosting the Confed and 2010 World Cup is about. Major companies can put up money to bring big-name clubs to South Africa for friendly tournaments, but nothing can match a competitive, international football game between two superb teams.
Fifa president Sepp Blatter yesterday bemoaned empty seats in the stadiums, and yesterday there were a few again, but he can’t complain about the party spirit of South African fans with 27 851 supporters in the 45 000-seater Free State Stadium, lapping up a goal-fest.
This included a magical opener by Real Madrid’s new £80 million signing Kaka. Taking Dani Alves’s pass on the edge of the area, the quintessential Brazilian No.10 chipped defender Hani Said, touched the ball past Wael Gomaa and gently stabbed home the Selecao’s first goal of the tournament in the fifth minute.
But Kaka was not the only world-class performer on the stage. Al-Ahly’s Mohamed Aboutrika, arguably the best midfielder on the African continent, and Borussia Dortmund’s Mohamed Zidan, terrorized the Brazil defence.
This duo combined as Egypt pulled one back in the ninth minute when Zidan rose majestically at the far post to head in Aboutrika’s cross. Within three minutes, Sevilla striker Luis Fabiano got above the Egyptian defence to glance in Elano’s free-kick.
After that flurry the game drifted until AS Roma central defender Juan buried Elano’s corner eight minutes before the break to make it 3-1.
After standing off the Brazilians too much in the first half, Egypt stunned their opponents and brought the crowd to life with two goals out of the top drawer early in the second.
In the 53rd minute good interplay by Aboutrika and Sayed Moawad on the right of the area saw the Goliath-like midfielder Mohamed Shawky teed up, who picked his spot with a powerful shot past Brazil goalkeeper Julio Cesar.
Then Aboutrika slipped through a pass that put Zidan on goal to make it 3-3.
The crowd, now firmly behind the African champions, cheered every challenge made at full stretch by the Egyptians to keep Kaka at bay.
Eventually, though, the former AC Milan icon had the last laugh. In the 89th minute, substitute Ahmed al Muhammadi clearly handled Lucio’s volley on the line. Kaka placed his spot-kick to the right of Essam Al Hadary and the Brazilians were relieved winners.
Egypt were to lodge a protest to Fifa about the penalty, claiming English referee Howard Webb had changed his decision to award a corner after seeing the big-screen replay.