SOUTH AFRICA 1
The 2010 World Cup got underway with a 1-1 draw as Mexico broke South African hearts through Rafael Marquez’s late equaliser. Siphiwe Tshabalala had earlier written his name in the history books with the first World Cup goal on African soil but it was not enough to claim the three points.
It took only two minutes for Mexico to come close to breaking the deadlock. Paul Aguilar’s low right-wing cross was spilled by the stretching Itumeleng Khune, but South African captain Aaron Mokoena just got across to deny Giovani dos Santos a simple tap-in. It was all Mexico in the opening stages, with Mokoena heading clear Giovani’s cross minutes later. Giovani then led a Mexican break in the 19th minute after a South African free-kick was cleared but his shot from the edge of the area swerved wide. Bafana Bafana began to get a foot in the game but it was Mexico who produced the first real save after the half hour, Khune making himself big to deny Guillermo Franco after Carlos Vela’s dinked ball into the box.
The Mexicans had the ball in the net before half-time but it was ruled out for offside. Giovani’s corner was flicked on at the near post by Franco to leave Vela with a simple finish but he had advanced past the stray Khune who had got nowhere near the cross. Instead, it was to be the hosts who took the lead, Tshabalala slamming a superb drive past Oscar Perez into the top corner after Teko Modise’s fine cross-field pass set him free. Bafana Bafana had started the second half brightly and it was a goal truly worthy of the occasion. Marquez spoiled the hosts’ party with 11 minutes left as he was left unmarked to pick his spot. Katlego Mphela had a chance to win the match for South Africa in the 90th minute but hit the outside of the post when clean through.
South Africa’s lack of competitive football showed during a first-half controlled by Mexico. Having played a series of low-intensity friendlies, the hosts seemed content early on to allow Mexico time on the ball. Instead of pressing high up the pitch, the South Africans stood off and conserved energy. Whilst the ball was rarely in dangerous areas, it still had the effect of allowing the Mexicans to settle and dictate the play. The tempo was kept fairly low but Mexico still looked to get forward regularly and enjoyed particular success down the right flank. Right-back Paul Aguilar was given far too much room by Siphiwe Tshabalala and it was from his deliveries that the early danger originated. Carlos Alberto Parreira made a move to address the problem at half-time, bringing on the more offensive-minded Tsepo Masilela for Lucas Thwala at left-back in an attempt to push Aguilar back.
Giovani dos Santos was the key creative player on the pitch throughout the first period but it was Guillermo Franco who looked most likely to break the deadlock. A confident player in the air, the Mexican forward was poorly marked from crosses and corners. It was Franco’s flicked header that nearly saw Carlos Vela break the deadlock, but for an excellent offside call from the Uzbek assistant referee, and he twice came close to scoring from Giovani set-pieces. Time and again, the South African defenders allowed their man to peel off, resulting in them marking space and not the opposition by the time the ball arrived in the box.
It was the poor marking that proved to be South Africa’s undoing with little over 10 minutes left in the match. Aaron Mokoena was left alone on the edge of the six-yard box with three Mexicans to mark, leaving Rafael Marquez with both space and options to spare as he coolly equalised. It is a habit that will worry Parreira, having nearly proved costly when Vela’s strike was ruled out before robbing them of victory when Marquez cashed in. With Itumeleng Khune proving to be a mix of inspiration and calamity in goal, it was a stroke of fortune to see Vela’s effort ruled out. For once it was to prove fortunate to see Khune come off his line and end up stranded, as he would have otherwise played Vela onside with a defender still rooted to the post. Yet Khune came close to claiming a match-winning assist at the death, with his long kick up field putting in Katlego Mphela who hit the post.
Whilst South Africa will take pride from the point, there will be a concern at the lack of impact made by Steven Pienaar. The Everton man was tipped in the build up as their key creative force but he was marked out of the game by Marquez. Bafana Bafana instead found joy through quick counter attacks that seemed to bypass Pienaar entirely. Had his team enjoyed more possession, his influence might have been greater. With Teko Modise and goalscorer Siphiwe Tshabalala proving effective in wide areas, a more involved Pienaar would give the hosts a solid platform on which to build sustained attacking pressure.
South Africa – Khune – Gaxa, Mokoena, Khumalo, Thwala (Masilela 46) – Tshabalala, Dikgacoi, Letsholonyane, Modise – Pienaar (Parker 83) – Mphela
Mexico – Perez – Aguilar (Guardado 56), Osorio, Rodriguez, Salcido – Juarez, Marquez, Torrado – dos Santos, Franco (Hernandez 73), Vela (Blanco 69)