By Mark Etheridge in Rio
Inspired by Itumeleng Khune, the 10-men South Africa’s Olympic men’s football side held the mighty Brazil to a 0-0 draw in Brasilia on Thursday.
The Group A clash turned out to be a two-man show with Khune keeping brilliant Barcelona forward Neymar at bay for the entire 90 minutes of action.
South Africa could have been a goal to the good within three minutes after Lebo Mothiba broke through but was denied by the big frame of ‘keeper Weverton.
Khune produced the first of a serious of match-saving heroics in the 28th minute before SA skipper Keagan Dolly shot just right in the 35th minute.
Five minutes before the halftime whistle it was again Khune who denied Neymar as he tipped a fierce drive over the crossbar.
That saw the teams go into the break at 0-0 and on resumption there were immediately anxious moment as Neymar went down in the area after a Abbubaker Mobara challenge but Spanish referee Antonio Mateu Lahoz waved play on.
Then it was South Africa’s turn to threaten as Aubrey Modiba went on a penetrating run before the Brazilian defence closed ranks and eventually got possession.
Mothiba had another golden chance in the 55th minute when he managed to get between two defenders but could only steer his header directly to Weverton.
Then came four minutes of madness that should have turned the match on his head.
First Mothobi Mvala got a yellow card after some theatrics from Neymar who went down like a polystyrene skittle in a bowling alley.
Tashreeq Morris then replaced Menzi Masuku and a minute later Mvala was adjudged to have body-blocked a Brazilian and referee Lahoz had no hesitation in going for his pocket.
Two yellow cards, one red card and one less South African player for the final 31 minutes of play.
Ten minutes later and yet another Brazilian chance went begging as Gabriel Jesus hit the right hand upright with Khune beaten and two minutes later another shot by the same player was deflected for a corner.
The final stanza saw Khune’s goal being peppered from all angles but the SA defence stood firm, despite picking up another yellow card by Mulomowandau Mathhoho.
South African fans then had to endure an official four minutes of added time which turned into another minute after a clash of heads involving the heroic Khune.
But finally referee Lahoz blew the final whistle bringing an end to a valiant effort by the South Africans at the Mané Garrincha Stadium.
Next up for Owen da Gama’s men is a clash at the same venue on Sunday (12 midnight SA time) against Denmark.