Parker: From zero to hero
Three days are a very long time in football. Just ask Bernard Parker. Singled out for criticism after his problems in front of goal against Iraq on Sunday, the South Africa front man was the darling of the nation on Wednesday, scoring twice against New Zealand to give Bafana Bafana their first win in the FIFA Confederations Cup. And just to cap his transformation from zero to hero, Parker's sparkling display up front earned him the Budweiser Man of the Match award.
The morning after restoring his reputation, Parker spoke to FIFA.com about his tumultuous evening at the Royal Bafokeng Stadium and what the future might hold for him and his team in the competition. And as far as the forthright striker is concerned, that future promises to be a bright one.
Parker's topsy-turvy tournament began with a shaky display in the curtain raiser against the Asian champions. Unable to convert the numerous chances that came his way, the Crvena Zvezda forward even contrived to block a goal-bound header from one of his team-mates as the clock ticked down, denying his team the perfect start to the tournament. With the incident all too fresh in his memory, Parker was determined to make amends in Rustenburg on Wednesday.
"We were all a bit nervous against Iraq," he acknowledges. "I tried very hard in that game, maybe too hard. All I wanted to do was score and I was very anxious. Perhaps that's why I missed so many chances and then stopped the ball going in. But against New Zealand, knowing that I still had the coach's confidence and was still in the starting XI, I really felt that I was going to have a good game."
Having regained his composure after the traumas of Sunday, Parker earned almost immediate redemption, putting his side ahead against the Kiwis after only 21 minutes. "It was a huge relief, I can tell you," he says. "I felt more confident after I'd scored, a lot more relaxed, and that's what helped me score the second, which wasn't exactly an ordinary goal."
Culminating a move involving Steven Pienaar and Tsepo Masilela, the same combination that fashioned the first goal, Parker showed his resourcefulness in the box, making a late adjustment to steer the ball home. "I went to the near post because I was expecting a cross from our left back," he explains. "He struck the ball a bit too hard, though, and instead of meeting it with my foot as I'd planned I had to use my body. Fortunately the ball hit me in the right place and went in."
Wheeling away in celebration after his unusual strike, Parker slapped his left arm with his right hand as he ran to the crowd, a curious celebration with a story behind it. "The celebration was for my friends back home, the ones I think of and the ones I want to feel proud of me. It's a type of greeting we have for each other and it just came to my mind when I saw the ball go in."
That infectious enthusiasm is a facet not just of Parker's character, but of the South Africa team as a whole, who geared themselves up for the match with the Kiwis by singing songs and dancing. "It's part of our culture, our character," explains the two-goal saviour. "Football is a game and we South Africans like to enjoy ourselves when we go out and play. That's why we sing and dance. It makes us happy and motivates us. It works too."
Next up for the hosts comes the toughest match of the group against Spain, a side with 14 straight wins behind them, a run that Parker and his colleagues will need to put an end to if they are to make sure of a semi-final spot. Daunting though the challenge may be, he believes they are equipped to meet it.
"They're the best team in the world, the European champions and the tournament favourites. We know they've got some big stars, but that's not going to make us nervous, anything but. We're going to raise our game and be even more confident."
All that separates Bafana Bafana from the last four is a point and Parker for one is convinced they can get it. "I'm sure we're going to do it. We're playing well, our fitness levels are good, we're very motivated and we'll have our fans behind us. Aside from all that, though, we simply have to do it. We don't have any option."