Almost a fairy-tale

2010-06-12 00:00

THE power of home advantage and a packed Soccer City came within 11 minutes of earning Bafana Bafana their faiy-tale beginning at the 2010 World Cup, though the hosts eventually had to settle for a 1-1 draw in yesterday’s opening match against Mexico.

After taking the lead through a spectacular 55th-minute strike from Siphiwe Tshabalala that would have had the global audience sit up and take notice of the host nation, Bafana conceded a soft goal in the 79th by Mexico captain Rafael Marquez.

But overall, while it was not the victory they were looking for, it was a good start for the South Africans against probably the best team in the group on form over the last year.

Bafana were desperately unlucky not to sneak a famous victory when Katlego Mphela outstripped the Mexican defence to Itumeleng Khune’s kick out of goal with two minutes to go and stabbed the ball past Mexican ’keeper Oscar Perez, only to see it come off the right upright.

The result re-emphasised the close nature of Group A, where France and Uruguay played to a 0-0 draw in the evening’s late match at Cape Town Stadium.

Bafana will aim for a win against Uruguay at Loftus on Wednesday, which should be enough to see the hosts through to the second round. A draw would leave them needing a victory against France in Bloemfontein on June 22.

In the first half South Africa showed Mexico too much respect and gave the central Americans space for their lethal attacking trio of Giovani Dos Santos, Guillermo Franco and Carlos Vela to exploit.

Bafana were kept in the game by some desperate defending and fine saves by goalkeeper Khune.

In the second half the hosts settled well, expressed themselves and at times had Mexico rattled, especially after Tshabalala’s lightning bolt strike.

Lucas Thwala was regularly caught for pace at left-back in the first half, and made way for Tsepo Masilela at the break.

As early as the second minute captain Aaron Mokoena had to block Dos Santos’s close-range effort after Khune had to reach too far for Paul Aguilar’s cross.

After spending the first 15 minutes camped in their own half the South African midfield showed signs of life, as Steven Pienaar earned a free-kick that the Everton midfielder put well over the bar.

In the 19th minute a sloppy touch by Teko Modise allowed Efrain Juarez to run through midfield and shoot narrowly wide.

Another point-blank effort for Mexico, saved by Khune, was set up when Franco’s chip put Vela past Mokoena.

Mexico had a goal disallowed for offside from a corner in the 39th minute, when Khune came for a cross and missed, and an unmarked Vela had the ball in the net from just in front of the line.

The chances were coming thick and fast for the visitors, and Franco’s header from a corner was over the bar.

Bafana found some rhythm at the end of the half and a beautiful pass from Modise put Tshabalala into space on the left, but his cross was inches too far for Mphela.

South Africa piled on the pressure with four corners, one of which was headed wide by Kagisho Dikgacoi.

In the second half it was a different story, and the South Africans began to treat the Soccer City pitch the way they were meant to — as a home one.

Their goal turned the game on its head. Dikgacoi’s excellent pass from midfield put Tshabalala through on the left, but from a narrow angle the winger still had it all to do to beat Perez. The Kaizer Chiefs player’s finish was into the roof of the net and worthy of a World Cup opening game.

After the goal Bafana harassed the Mexicans in the manner they should have in the first half, keeping a tighter shape.

The tactic appeared to be working, but the South Africans had ridden their luck in defence, especially in the first half, and with 11 minutes to go their fortune ran out.

Juarez’s free-kick found Marquez unmarked at the far post to trap and bury his side’s equaliser.

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