Day 12 saw the first qualifiers for the last 16 decided as Uruguay, Mexico, Argentina and South Korea all successfully reached the second round. Some perhaps more convincingly than others – Uruguay were comfortable throughout their final game defeat of Mexico, who were made to sweat as hosts South Africa looked on their way to a comprehensive victory over France. Argentina had secured their progress after just two games (but for an unlikely goal difference swing) but continued their impressive form with victory over Greece, while South Korea scraped through after a 2-2 draw with Nigeria, who followed South Africa, France and Greece out of the competition.
SOUTH AFRICA 2
Khumalo 20, Mphela 37
Bafana Bafana gave their supporters one last hurrah with a memorable 2-1 win over a troubled French side in Bloemfontein. The hosts took the lead 20 minutes in when defender Bongani Khumalo headed home from a corner after goalkeeper Hugo Lloris had completely missed Siphiwe Tshabalala’s cross. Just six minutes later, France were dealt a further blow when midfielder Yoann Gourcuff was dismissed by referee Oscar Ruiz when he appeared to elbow Macbeth Sibaya while challenging for a header. A touch harsh perhaps as the contact had looked accidental. South Africa doubled their lead eight minutes before the break when Katlego Mphela tapped in from three yards after France had again failed to clear to safety.
With the news that Uruguay were ahead against Mexico, South Africa desperately chased more goals in the second half and saw their hopes all but disappear twenty minutes from time when Franck Ribery broke forward before unselfishly squaring the ball to Florent Malouda to slide into the empty net. South Africa were visibly disappointed to be exiting the competition but they left on a high note and have provided the footballing world with plenty of moments to savour.
Uruguay’s Luis Suarez scored the only goal of the game as Uruguay recorded a 1-0 victory over Mexico to top Group A. Although both sides would have progressed with a share of the spoils, the game was certainly not played in order to achieve that. Mexican midfielder Andres Guardado was agonisingly close to opening the lead in spectacular fashion, unleashing a stinging drive that crashed off the underside of the bar. Uruguay did find the net on 43 minutes when Edinson Cavani delivered a dangerous ball to the back post for Luis Suarez to head home.
With South Africa two goals to the good against France, Mexico were aware that progression to the knockout stages was now in the balance and they could have fallen further behind as Uruguay continued to create chances. Late on both sides were safe in the knowledge that they were both through to the last 16 and not surprisingly, the game petered out with no action of any note in the closing stages.
Demichelis 77, Palermo 89
Argentina maintained their perfect record at the World Cup finals with a comfortable 2-0 success over 2004 European Champions Greece, who despite needing a win to qualify for the second round adopted a negative setup throughout. Greek goalkeeper Alexandros Tzorvas was tested on numerous occasions in the opening minutes, first from Sergio Aguero and then from Juan Veron, who’s screamer from long range was tipped over in spectacular fashion. As the game wore on, the tactics employed by their opponents began to frustrate Argentina. With star man Lionel Messi being singled out for extra special attention by Otto Rehhagel’s side.
The Greeks smash-and-grab game plan was severely damaged when Argentina deservedly went ahead on 77 minutes, with central defender Martin Demichelis thumping home from six yards. The victory was wrapped up late on when Lionel Messi went on a trademark run before his shot was palmed straight to the feet of 36 year-old substitute Martin Palermo who made no mistake with the follow up to maintain his side’s 100% record and sealing the fate of their opponents in the process.
Uche 12, Yakubu 69 (pen)
SOUTH KOREA 2
Lee Jung-Soo 38, Park Chu-Young 49
South Korea held Nigeria to a 2-2 draw to progress to the knockout stages by the skin of their teeth after a thrilling encounter. A victory for Nigeria combined with a Greece defeat in Polokwane would have seen the African side progress and it was them who would open the scoring – Kalu Uche stealing in front of left-back Cha Du-Ri to put the Super Eagles ahead. Seven minutes before the break, the South Koreans levelled when Lee Jung-Soo had gone unnoticed at the back post and rather fortuitously side-footed home to put them back in the driving seat.
Four minutes into the second half South Korea took the lead when Park Chu-Young’s curled his free-kick round the side of the wall and past Nigerian goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama. Nigeria went for broke soon after and should have reignited their challenge on 67 minutes when Yakubu astonishingly failed to convert into an empty net from just three yards out. He would make a mends however, converting a 69th minute penalty to tie the game at two goals apiece. They came closest to a crucial winning goal when substitute Obafemi Martins was through one-on-one with goalkeeper Jung Sung-Ryoung only to dink the ball wide of the target. The final whistle was greeted with huge celebrations from the South Korean contingent who had held on to reach the knockout stages for only the second time in the nation’s history.