South Africa 1 Mexico 1
By Graham Lockwood.
One thing that Match 1 of the first world cup in Africa will be remembered for is the number of orange boots being worn by the players. Even if the football is not quite up to scratch, the atmosphere, vibrancy and enthusiasm of everything else to do with the tournament is going to be top class. Well maybe except for the ITV line up of Chiles, Southgate and Townsend.
The talk before the game may have focused on how Mexico would handle the constant Vuvuzela sound however after an initial 5 minutes where the Bafana Bafana were restricted to chasing shadows, it became clear the unwavering horns may not quite disturb the opposition that much. The home players looked nervous and in awe of the occasion and only an outstanding block from their leader Aaron Mokoena prevented them from going behind in the opening seconds. Mexico looked slick, comfortable and adventurous but their best early chance came from a corner, Franco heading powerfully but high over Khune’s crossbar. As South Africa tried to get a foothold in the game, their first move of any significance resulted in a free kick 35 yards out that Steven Pienaar curled over. Pienaar has shown glimpses of brilliance for Everton and it seemed that the hosts would follow the same pattern in a first half largely dominated by Mexico.
The best chance of the half fell to the former West Ham striker Franco, who latched on to a neat through ball but was foiled by an excellent save from Itumeleng Khune. A minute later, no Mexican players were in the right place to get on the end of a good ball across the face of Khune’s goal from Arsenal’s Carlos Vela. Mexico would have the ball in the net from a corner, but Khune’s decision to flap and South Africa’s decision to not guard both posts meant that it would be correctly ruled out for offside. However South Africa’s frailties in defending set pieces were obvious and another poor attempt at marking gave Franco another headed chance from a free kick.
With Mexico seemingly waiting to open the scoring, something shifted the balance of the game 5 minutes before half time. South Africa put together a sequence of good moves, resulting in some major flapping from the Mexican keeper Perez during a string of corners. Mphela was also inches away from a Siph Tshabalala cross. Maybe those inches would be the difference as Mexico started the second half back in control. They were playing like they had done at Wembley a few weeks previous, good technical skills, quick passing, movement off the ball, but again they only threatened to take charge of the game, they never quite…….GOAL BAFANA BAFANA, the extravagant celebration of the Africans matches the quality of the finish. The vuvuzelas believe it or not could not be heard over the roar, or maybe it was in the shock of what had just happened. One of the best moves of the match ended with the sweetest of finishes from Tshabalala, a left foot strike that flew right in to Perez’ top left hand corner. The whole world except for 110 million Central Americans probably found themselves as adopted South African fans.
The goal seemed to give the Africans an extra bit of belief, a bit more freedom, suddenly it was the Mexicans who looked a bit like rabbits in headlights. The problem for the hosts would be that extra freedom, suddenly they were pouring forwards and Khune had to save well from Giovani. The South African goalkeeper certainly not falling into the extravagant but clumsy category so many African keepers have before. His distribution throughout he match was superb. The Mexicans had stopped playing their free flowing football and Modise was finding space on the right hand side for South Africa.
With just over 12 minutes to go, the hosts switched off whilst defending a short corner, a Guardado cross finding 3 Mexican players unmarked in the middle. The ball would fall to the feet of the impressive Marquez and he skewed his shot past Khune. Harsh on the Africans, but probably deserved and just looking back through their defending from set pieces throughout the ninety minutes. At 1-1, both sides had chances to win, Khumalo blocking well from the Manchester United bound Javier Hernandez who had been thrown on to rescue Mexico with an impressive record of 7 goals in 12 appearances for his country. An even better chance fell to Katlego Mphela, but with Perez beaten and showing half the goal, he could only hit the outside of the post. It could be the difference between qualifying and not for the hosts.
A great start to the competition, the Vuvuzela’s are going to be a lasting memory. Its not often a sound similar to hundreds of buzzing bees around your ears creates a good atmosphere but these horns may well be seen at a premier league ground near you at the start of next season. The Africans have it down to a tee though, you can’t blow for ninety minutes, continuous, deafening , raucous babble that is created is actually the well synchronized blowing of hundreds of talented musicians. It is called interval blowing, sound your horn for as long as you can, then rest whilst someone else takes over. It all means there is a constant organized racket that only changes level in the last 5 minutes when everyone joins in at the same time to create the loudest blast ever heard in a football stadium. Brilliant start to tournament expected to entertain.
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