Hosts held after late flourish fails

JOHANNESBURG - Asian champions Iraq put a damper on South Africa's opening party at the Confederations Cup on Sunday, holding the hosts to a 0-0 draw in a preliminary dress rehearsal for next year's first World Cup finals in Africa. South Africa, whose fans produced an ear-splitting crescendo of noise for much of the game, failed to match their aspirations, carving out and missing a series of chances, notably in the second half. Iraq, who will not have the chance to show their skills at next year's World Cup as they are already eliminated, did not make the most of the opportunity the Confederations Cup afforded, defending resolutely but offering barely a scrap of adventure. The Bafana Bafana squandered three gilt-edged chances in the space of five minutes late in the game, the worst in the 84th minute when midfielder Kagisho Dikgacoi headed across goal after Iraqi keeper Mohamed Kassid had missed a cross. The ball seemed destined for the net but it hit striker Bernard Parker on the heel as he attempted to knock it over the line from point-blank range and bounced away as the crowd of 48,837 at Ellis Park prematurely celebrated the winner. Substitute Katlego Mashego and Parker had both missed great chances only minutes earlier and striker Thembinkosi Fanteni had headed narrowly over the bar in the 72nd minute. South Africa's Brazilian coach Joel Santana said his team clearly dominated and accused Iraq of negativity. "They didn't even try to play," he said. "They never tried to play football. They tried to paralyse the game. "We had 17 shots and they had three. I think we played well. We could easily have scored two or three goals. That's football sometimes." Iraq coach Bora Milutinovic denied his team had used negative tactics. "It was not easy," he said. "We did everything to try to win the game. I'm sorry if you thought it was boring." South Africa and Iraq's Group A rivals at the eight-nation tournament of continental champions, Spain and New Zealand, were meeting in the second game in Rustenberg later on Sunday. The South African team showed some neat touches in midfield in which MacBeth Sibaya was outstanding but they over-elaborated while strikers Parker and Fanteni failed to hold the ball up with any regularity. But though they dominated play against a lacklustre Iraqi team, the performance did little to ease fears that as hosts to the World Cup next year, they could struggle to make an impact. The match was watched by South African president Jacob Zuma, who welcomed the world to Africa at the end of a colourful pre-match opening ceremony.