France 1-2 South Africa – Hosts crash out despite French scalp

FRANCE 1
Malouda 70

SOUTH AFRICA 2
Khumalo 20, Mphela 37

Despite beating a France team in crisis, the host nation South Africa were eliminated from their World Cup at the Free State Stadium in Bloemfontein, due to goal-difference. France withered out of the World Cup without any fight, but the South Africans were unfortunate after raising their game to beat the French. Because Mexico only lost 1-0 to Uruguay in the simultaneous match in the group, both of those sides went through at the expense of the hosts.

France’s seemingly unpopular manager Raymond Domenech, made six changes to freshen a disunited team. Patrice Evra was notably left on the bench after his leadership role in the French revolution this week.

The remarkable team-spirit of the South Africans took them into the lead they dreamed of after just 20 minutes. French goalkeeper Hugo Lloris was caught in no-man’s land after Siphiwe Tshabalala’s corner evaded him, leaving Bongani Khumalo headed the hosts into the lead. The crisis-ridden French stormed up the other end in search of a response, but Yoann Gourcuff’s exuberant attempt to win an aerial ball resulted in a red card. It was harsh, but representative of Domenech’s luck at the moment.

France were sluggish, and conceded again after 37 minutes. Tshabalala fought his way into the box and crossed for Katlego Mphela to score – never before had the vuvuzelas been blown louder. Needing a better goal-difference to steal second-place in the group, South Africa went on the attack. After coming close on a few occasions, France scored against the run of play. Franck Ribery’s run beat the offside trap, and he set up Florent Malouda to score into an empty net and temporarily silence the deafening noise from the crowd.

South Africa held on for what will be remembered as a famous victory, and despite their early elimination, they will be remembered for the African passion they brought to this summer’s World Cup.

If ever a match demonstrated that desire and commitment is as effective as natural ability, it was this. Even before the match began, we saw the South Africans singing and dancing their way into their dressing room. Considering the unlikeliness of the host nation’s progression to the second-round prior to kick-off, they were showing admirable confidence. France, on the other hand, arrived looking solemn and frankly uninterested.

The differing attitudes continued onto the pitch. The South Africans were a different team from their resounding 3-0 loss to Uruguay. They had a bounce in their step created by a freedom to play, knowing that France were vulnerable and they had the backing of their home support to achieve. It should probably be noted that the South African fans relentlessly supported their underdog team even after the disappointment of the Uruguay match – never did they boo their own team off the pitch.

The disorganisation of the French was evident in the opening goal. Hugo Lloris unconvincingly missed an out-swinging corner, which Khumalo headed in. Abou Diaby’s shoddy attempt at marking Khumalo exemplified the lack of will in the French ranks. Carlos Alberto Parreira changed his South African side’s formation to 4-4-2, shifting Steven Pienaar to his more familiar right-wing position and introducing Bernard Parker as a second striker. His brave, expansive tactic worked. Tshabalala could have been a top-class left winger on this performance – all afternoon the dreadlocked scorer of the World Cup’s first goal tormented France on his flank.

It was probably irrelevant what team or formation Domenech used. Although he made six changes to presumably stamp some sort of authority on the team who trust him so little that they think they know better themselves, nothing worked. Franck Ribery, supposedly worth an astronomical amount of money, couldn’t get in the game. France looked like a team waiting for this World Cup to be over so Domenech can leave, and Laurent Blanc can come in.

Although Gourcuff’s early sending-off was probably the wrong decision from the referee, it only served to further put out any fire the French had to will them on. Domenech held his head in his hands and Gourcuff trudged off the pitch, both seemingly knowing that it was a matter of time before they arrived back in France, having disgraced their nation by a collective lack of unison that put England’s apparent problems into context. Florent Malouda’s consolation goal told the story. Having tapped the ball into an empty net to make it lessen the deficit, the celebration was muted and low-key. They lacked the fight to try and score an equaliser.

As much as the world would have loved to see South Africa carry on their World Cup adventure, logic would say that the best two teams have progressed from Group A. The hosts have given us their fair share of wonderful moments, and their presence certainly won’t be lost from this World Cup.

France – Lloris, Sagna, Gallas, Squillaci, Clichy, Gourcuff, Diarra (Govou 82), Diaby, Ribery, Cisse (Henry 52), Gignac (Malouda 46)
South Africa – Josephs- Masilela, Mokoena, Khumalo, Ngcongca (Gaxa 55), Tshabalala, Sibaya, Khuboni (78), Mphela, Pienaar, Parker (Nomvethe 68)

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