Rustenburg - It took a stoppage time goal, but Bafana Bafana sneaked a 2-1 win over Norway in the Nelson Mandela Challenge in Rustenburg on Saturday to pick up their first victory over European opposition since they beat Slovenia 1-0 in the 2002 Fifa World Cup.
For South Africa, the 2010 Fifa World Cup hosts, it was just their sixth win in 27 matches against European opposition.
The fixture, besides serving as the Nelson Mandela Challenge for 2009, also served as the official re-opening of the Royal Bafokeng Sports Palace, one of the Fifa World Cup finals venues, after the completion of renovations to it.
There were plenty of Fifa and South African government officials in attendance, along with a vocal and happy crowd, which was hoping for a repeat of Bafana's last Mandela Challenge match in November, 2008 when they beat Africa’s highest ranked team, Cameroon, 3-2.
Norway entered the contest on the back of a 1-0 win away to Germany, following the return of coach Egil Olsen to the national job; he had been in charge during Norway’s best years in their history in the 1990s, helping the team rise to as high as number two in the Fifa world rankings, and guiding them to the World Cup finals in 1994 and 1998.
South Africa began the contest with confidence, taking the attack to the European side. Within the first minute, the home team had taken its first shot on goal.
They kept pressing and their reward for the early pressure arrived early, in the seventh minute. Red Star Belgrade striker Bernard Parker profited from a goal mouth scramble, after a low cross from Siboniso Gaxa, toe-poking the ball past Norwegian goalkeeper Jon Knudsen to send the crowd wild with yells of delight.
Bafana were on top and Everton's Steven Pienaar fired a rasping shot just over the Norwegian crossbar. However, in the 27th minute, Norway drew level.
Matthew Booth conceded a free kick and Morten Gamst Pedersen, a team-mate of South African captain Aaron Mokoena at Blackburn Rovers, pulled his side level from a free kick, which deflected off Pienaar and left Itumeleng wrong-footed and beaten.
In response, midfield ace Teko Modise let fly with a trademark fierce strike from a South African free kick, but Knudsen stood firm in the visitors' goal.
Pederson was just wide of the target when his shot was deflected after Pienaar had conceded possession on the edge of the South African area.
Just before the break, Modise came close with another free kick, his effort passing narrowly wide of the mark.
As they had done in the first half, South Africa began the second half brightly. Once again it was Modise asking the questions, but Knudsen had no problems keeping his side on level terms.
Norway appealed for a penalty when Bafana skipper Mokoena knocked Mohammed Abdellaoue off the ball, but the referee ignored their appeals.
On the hour-mark, Mabhuti Khenyeza had a golden opportunity to put Bafana ahead. Siboniso Gaxa picked out the striker with an accurate cross, but Khenyeza's header hit the crossbar and bounced out of play.
Bafana Bafana coach Joel Santana began making changes in the 68th minute when he sent on Msilo Modubi for Macbeth Sibaya. A minute later, Siphiwe Tshabalala replaced Khenyeza. After 78 minutes, Ketlego Mphela took over from Steven Pienaar, and five minutes later Surprise Moriri replaced Parker.
Despite the fresh legs and signs that the Norwegians were wilting in the African heat, there was still no way through for the home team.
Jon Arne Riise let fly with a typically vicious left-footed shot, but Khune denied the AS Roma man.
The match reached the end of regulation time with the sides tied at one-all and it appeared that the teams would share the spoils, but there was one final twist to come.
With the final whistle due at any moment, substitute Tshabalala blasted a shot from outside the box into the top corner of the Norwegian goal to snatch victory for Bafana Bafana as the side's fans erupted into joyous celebrations.
South Africa will be in action on Tuesday again when they face a tough test against Portugal, ranked tenth in the Fifa world rankings. The teams meet in Lausanne, Switzerland.