Friday, June 11, 2010

South Africa v. Mexico, Soccer Stadium, Johannesburg, South Africa

Result: South Africa 1  Mexico 1  Take Away: A Fair Result

The tournament opened today with all the pomp and circumstance you would expect for the world's biggest sporting event.  And it opened in a beautiful new venue in Joburg in front of 83,548.
The hosts played as if the eyes of the world were upon them for the first thirty minutes--tentative and uncertain.  Mexico had the run of play and in the 37th minute Carlos Vela appeared to score the opener.  The South African keeper came out to play a corner swung in from his right but was beaten to the ball by a Mexican attacker who flicked on a simple header which Vela directed into the open goal.  The commentators Martin Tyler and Efan Ekoku noted the defender standing on the goal line and Ekoku was adamant the linesman had blown the call.*  In this case, it's better the announcers were wrong.  In misplaying the ball the keeper had gone past Vela, thus he did not have TWO defenders between him and the goal when the ball was played.  It was very close but the linesman got this one right.

*With the Ireland-France handball fiasco in World Cup qualifying, the horrendous officiating in the NBA Finals, the blown call in the recent (im)perfect baseball game, this would not be a good start.  Non-soccer fans and the media would have had a field day.

The game went to the half scoreless and it was clear Mexico had squandered multiple chances.  It wasn't long before they were punished for their indiscretion.  In the 55th minute the hosts strung together a nice series of passes and Teko Modise found Siphiwe Tshabalala behind the defense.  Tshabalala scored what will be one of the five best goals of the tournament, rifiling a shot from eight meters out from the left post into the upper right hand corner.  Commentator Tyler noted that Tshabalalalalala has the perfect name for the thousands of songs that are now going to be written about him.

Mexico had no choice but to go forward and in the 79th minute Rafael Marquez leveled the match.  He was left onside when the South African captain failed to move forward with his teammates.  Marquez took a cross, settled it beautifully and beat the keeper from 5 meters.  Over a few cervezas he will tell his teammates that he meant to beat the keeper on the right, the short side, and it was a majestic strike.  No doubt he took it well and in that situation if you basically avoid ripping it into the keeper you will get your just reward.  Marquez did that.  But both he and I know he meant differently.  He was a bit lucky and I'm sure he will thank the Almighty in his prayers tonight.

The country almost erupted as Bafana Bafana hit the post in the final minute, but the scoreline held and both sides left the pitch relieved.  South Africa kept the host nation's slate clean in World Cup openers, now 15-0-5, and Mexico recovered to get a point.  The South Africans will need to upgrade their level going forward, but played 25 very good minutes in the second half and were dangerous counter attacking.  El Tri will have to do better with the chances they got.  Their road to round two just got a little more diffiuclt.  France and Uruguay up next.

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