Exit with honour

2010-06-23 00:00

BAFANA Bafana bowed out of the World Cup in the first round, despite yesterday’s 2-1 Group A victory against France at the Free State Stadium, but the host nation did not disgrace itself.

Notching their second-ever victory in three World Cup finals, Bafana ended the tournament with their heads held high.

The 83rd-ranked national team, written off as no-hopers before the tournament, ended one of the tournament’s toughest groups in third place, level on four points with 17th-ranked Mexico but with an inferior goal difference.

South Africa drew 1-1 against Mexico in their opener before a naive 3-0 defeat to Uruguay.

Yesterday’s victory was by far South Africa’s best performance of the tournament. The hosts played with intensity and focus, giving away far less possession than in their previous two games.

Three South African-based players — SuperSport United defender Bongani Khumalo, Kaizer Chiefs left wing Siphiwe Tshabalala and Mamelodi Sundowns striker Katlego Mphela — were outstanding yesterday and on their World Cup performances must be Europe-bound.

The fatigued Steven Pienaar lifted himself and was back to his best. Goalkeeper Moeneeb Josephs was another star of the victory.

Bafana certainly had chances to score more goals. The hosts had 21 shots to France’s 10, Katlego Mphela hit the post for a second time in the tournament just after the break, and French goalkeeper Hugo Lloris pulled off some excellent saves.

Parreira’s five changes from the Uruguay defeat included two enforced by suspension — Josephs for Itumeleng Khune and MacBeth Sibaya for Kagisho Dikgacoi in defensive midfield.

Sibaya made a difference with the steely, ball-winning ability he added.

With goals the priority, the coach opted for a more attacking 4-4-2 formation, introducing Lamontville Golden Arrows’ 21-year-old central midfielder, Thanduyise Khuboni, for Teko Modise in central midfield.

Bernard Parker was added as a second striker to partner Mphela up-front, with Reneilwe Letsholonyane the surplus midfielder to give way. Young Belgian-based defender Anele Ngcongca replaced Siboniso Gaxa at right-back.

France coach Raymond Domenech was even more offensive, with Djibril Cisse a central striker and two very attacking wingers in Franck Ribery and Andre Gignac. Captain Patrice Evra, who had a training ground bust-up with the French fitness trainer on Sunday, was dropped.

Bafana opened the scoring in the 20th minute with a training ground goal that was an exact replica of one scored in the 1-1 warm-up draw against Bulgaria — Bongani Khumalo running on to Siphiwe Tshabalala’s corner and burying his header.

Six minutes later, France were reduced to 10 men. Gourcouff went into a high challenge on Sibaya in the Bafana area with his elbow and Colombian referee Oscar Ruiz showed the French playmaker red.

Siphiwe Tshabalala put a free-kick over the bar in the 34th minute and three minutes later it was 2-0 to Bafana.

Tsepo Masilela won the ball on the left of the area and squared to Mphela, who finished into an open goal.

Josephs pulled off a superb save to keep the scoreline at 2-0, diving at full stretch to block the close-range touch of William Gallas from Ribery’s free-kick.

In the 40th minute, Lloris’s finger-tip diving save kept out Mphela’s skidding shot from the edge of the area.

Bafana attacked from the whistle in the second half and Tshabalala slipped Mphela through, but the striker’s shot thundered against the upright.

In the 60th minute, Mphela was through again, but scrambled the ball into the side-netting off Lloris.

But France, who brought on Florent Malouda and Thierry Henry early in the second half, rallied to produce a fighting last half-hour. Les Bleus pulled back their goal when the Bafana defence opened up in the 61st minute, Bakari Sagna playing Franck Ribery through on the right who squared for an unmarked Malouda to finish past Josephs.

In injury time, Lloris pulled off another good save to deny Mphela’s shot from 25 metres.

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