SOUTH AFRICA 1 MEXICO 1
The points were shared in the 2010 World Cup’s curtain raiser inside Soccer City, Johannesburg this afternoon. Siphiwe Tshabalala’s clinical finish before the hour, completing an excellent passing move from the hosts, was cancelled out by Rafael Marquez’s goal going into the last ten minutes after poor marking from a short corner.
Bafana Bafana played Everton’s Steven Pienaar off in-form lone striker Katlego Mphela, unlucky to hit the post towards the end, with Teko Modise and Tshabalala taking up the wide positions. There was no place for Matthew Booth in the XI who played very well during the Confederations Cup last year. The remaining English-based contingent for South Africa was Kagisho Dikgacoi (Fulham) and captain Aaron Mokoena (Portsmouth). Their Latin American opponents fielded an all Premier League front three; West Ham’s Guillermo Franco flanked by Giovani dos Santos of Spurs and Carlos Vela of Arsenal. PSV Eindhoven duo Carlos Salcido and Francisco Javier Rodriguez were joined in the defensive positions by Ricardo Osorio and Paul Aguilar who looked very bright going forward; Barcelona’s Rafael Marquez sat in front of the back four.
Javier Aguirre’s side enjoyed early possession and probably deserved to be ahead by half-time. South Africa seemed to take their time feeling their way into the game but similarly to Mexico there was a lack of cutting edge and the killer pass in the final third. Giovani still remains an inconsistent player, getting himself into good positions but then failing to deliver. It was his and Carlos Vela’s movement that Bafana Bafana struggled to handle. Substitute Cuauhtemoc Blanco at 37 still showed his skill during the twenty minutes he was on the pitch. South Africa’s marking from set pieces was particularly poor and needs to be addressed on the training ground. In open play however they were better defensively.
At the other end, since record goalscorer Benni McCarthy had been dropped, I feel already that there is an awful lot of pressure on Pienaar to deliver for the hosts, too much pressure perhaps. There are question marks over both nation’s goalkeepers. Khune and Perez both had dodgy moments in the game, the former needlessly wasting a free-kick in second-half stoppage time with the match at 1-1 as he failed to wait for his South African team mates to push up. The Bafana Bafana keeper seems somewhat impulsive, but still made a good saves from Franco, otherwise wasteful with headers, in the first-half and Giovani in the second. Mexico’s number one chose to come out of his area on numerous occasions and parried a Siboniso Gaxa shot which will no doubt bring up further debate on the Jabulani match ball. Both sides will look to improve in their next match.
URUGUAY 0 FRANCE 0
The later game in Group A was somewhat disappointing as the two sides produced the same result as the last time they met in the World Cup. Either side had a great chance to win the game, France in the first ten minutes when Sidney Govou just failed to meet Franck Ribery’s cross and Uruguay through Diego Forlan off Luis Suarez’s lay-off midway through the second-half. Nicolas Anelka, playing as a lone striker, seemed to lack discipline in that role, drifting into the channels and dropping deep to get the ball, reflecting the lack of consistent service from Govou who was very poor and Ribery who continues to disappoint. Playmaker Yohann Gourcuff is another of Les Bleues who underachieves. They failed to exploit the narrowness of Uruguay’s formation enough and their South American opponents carried a threat on the counter. The performances of Bacary Sagna and Abou Diaby, who provided much needed strength and drive to the midfield are the only positives besides keeping a clean sheet that Raymond Domenech can take. His tactics will continue to be criticised, particularly leaving Florent Malouda on the bench who has had his best ever season.
As for Uruguay, Diego Godin caught the eye, getting his partner in central defence national captain Diego Lugano out of trouble a number of times during the first-half. Substitute Nicolas Lodeiro was only on the pitch for eighteen minutes and was deservedly sent off for an unnecessary challenge. The hero of the qualification play-off against Costa Rica which got Uruguay to the tournament has now turned villain. France could have had a penalty off Victorino’s handling of the ball near the end, but neither side really deserved to win the game. Much like the South Africa v Mexico game, both sides will seek improvement in the next group game. Two draws on this opening match day leaves Group A very much wide open in my eyes.