South Africa denied in sloppy opener
So, after 4 long years, the World Cup begins once again. And what better place to locate the most colourful show in the world than in the Rainbow Nation. The hosts, though, were probably outplayed, but deserve their point, whilst Mexico can count themselves lucky.
It was a strange game. Mexico clearly showed they were the side with greater ability, dominating the majority of the first half. But they seemed too laid back, too lax, trying to walk it into the net as if they had no regard for the Bafana Bafana, who try as they might just couldn’t get a break. But after half time, they did, with the relatively unknown Tshabalala putting himself into the shop window with a wonderful run past the slow Mexican defenders and a cool blast into the top corner. Whether it was marginally on or offside was beside the point – 1-0 to the hosts and Mexico deserved it for their lack of drive.
Even after the goal they still seemed to think they had plenty of time. It was like watching England under Eriksson 4 years ago – arrogance but without the substance to back it up. This nearly cost them dearly when South Africa probably should’ve been awarded a penalty and again in the last minute when Mphela hit the post in a one-on-one. But by the latter, the Central Americans’ blushes had been saved, when Marquez scored his 2nd goal in 2 consecutive World Cup matches (albeit separated by 4 years) by firing past Khune, who up until then had been impressive, with 12 minutes of normal time to go. The South African defence had fallen apart at the sight of a short corner – Mokoena should know better than to just stand in the middle of the penalty area and play 3 Mexican attackers onside.
And so a draw is probably a deserved result – it was like watching Arsenal play a mediocre Championship side in an FA Cup tie. South Africa played with heart and can hold their heads up high, and have won over many neutral fans as well. Mexico will be disappointed – they were too complacent and one-dimensional in a game they should’ve won. The tournament’s dark horses have now exposed their flaws – they are lacking a world class striker, their defence is too slow, and Perez the goalkeeper is too short. The winners from this? France and Uruguay, who will now be fancying their chances of progression. For the French especially, this is a big confidence boost, and will dampen the fears that they may not qualify for the next round. We’ll see what effect it has in just under an hour…
As a post-script, it’s also worth noting that there were plenty of mishit passes, long balls and long range shots today as well – the controversial Jabulani ball may to blame there. It will be interesting to see if this is a trend throughout the first round of matches.