Hosts South Africa pulled off a magnificent 2-1 victory over former Champions France in their final group match but ultimately missed out on the knockout berth to Mexico due to goal difference.  It was a feeling of Déjà vu for France, as 2002 flashed before their eyes, before they bowed out of the World Cup without even registering a single win.

A sense of disharmony in the squad that had beleaguered the French coach Raymond Domenech, resulted in the expected calamity. Domenech made as many as six changes to the first eleven that featured against Mexico – Captain Patrice Evra being one of the casualties. Though quite strangely, star striker Thierry Henry once again found himself out of favor.  France started off brightly and in the third minute of play, a defense splitting pass from Yoann Gourcuff found Andre Gignac inside the box, but the French striker disappointed with a tame attempt straight at Bafana goalkeeper Moneeb Josephs. Les Blues continued to attack in the initial minutes, but were unable to find that decisive delivery inside the African box. The best chance that came off France’s way in that period was wasted by Djibril Cisse, when he flicked an Abou Diaby cross towards South Africa goal – but the alert goalkeeper had the goal well covered.

The capacity crowd at Bloemfontein Free State Stadium, which was continuously cheering for the home team, erupted with unbounded joy when the Bafana boys grabbed the lead in the 20th minute against the run of play. France ‘keeper Hugo Lloris completely misjudged the flight of the ball from a corner kick, allowing Bongani Khumalo to head it into the empty net.

Being a goal down, France almost responded immediately through Gignac, but the Toulouse striker, who got Domenech’s nod over Thierry Henry, shot the ball miles over.

The Les Bleus were evidently unlucky to have reduced to 10 men by the 26th minute as the Colombian referee Oscar Ruiz dished out marching order to Yoann Gourcuff for his innocuously raised elbow that touched MacBeth Sibaya’s face inside South African box. Replays suggested that the contact was merely unintentional and sending off was indeed a harsh decision.

June 22, 2010 - South Africa - Football - France v South Africa FIFA World Cup South Africa 2010 - Group A - Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein, South Africa - 22/6/10..France's Yoann Gourcuff (2nd L) is shown a red card by referee Oscar Ruiz (C.Sorry Mr. Ruiz, you killed the contest here

Up against 10 men, South Africa looked hungry and pressed hard for doubling their lead, as it was becoming evident from the news of Uruguay taking one goal lead over Mexico that better goal difference could be the key to getting a slot in the second round. The deafening sound of the vuvuzelas went wild in celebration in the 37th minute, when Katlego Mphela tapped in a delicious cross from Siphiwe Tshabalala. Soon after, Bernard Parker sent the ball in Lloris’s net once again, but then it was not to be South Africa’s elusive third – as the midfielder was correctly ruled offside by the linesman. In the dying minutes of first half, William Gallas failed to tap in a curling Ribery free-kick, which found him unmarked inside the six yards box – and there was no end to France’s misery.

June 22, 2010 - South Africa - Football - France v South Africa FIFA World Cup South Africa 2010 - Group A - Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein, South Africa - 22/6/10..France coach Raymond Domenech looks dejected.Was Domenech expecting a miracle?

South Africa started the second half in attacking mood as they pressed for more goals. Five minutes after the break, Mphela unleashed a powerful right footer from outside the French box; with Lloris completely beaten, the ball kissed the outside of the near post and went out, to the agony of Mamelodi Sundowns striker. Around the hour mark, Mphela decided to test Lloris with a long range scorcher, but the France number one was equal to the task and pulled off a brilliant finger-tipped save.

With just over twenty minutes of play remaining, Abu Diaby combined well with Frank Ribery and the latter presented Chelsea-man Florent Malouda with an inch perfect square pass in front of the goal. Malouda slotted home with ease, but that would merely prove to be just a consolation goal for the Les Blues.

The hosts went for one last bite in the dying moments of the match, but once again Lloris came up with a superb reflex save to deny Tshabalala. With the referee blowing the final whistle, South Africa became the first host nation in the history of the World Cup to bow out without making it into the knockout stages. But with their passionate display of fighting spirit and a winning finish, Carlos Alberto Parreira’s fighters can leave the playing arena with their heads held high in esteem. Sadly the same cannot be said about Raymond Domenech and his tainted army.

TheHardTackle’s Player Of The Match:
Lawrence Siphiwe Tshabalala (South Africa)
The scorer of the opening goal in this version of the World Cup was tonight’s best performer on the pitch by miles. He created a lot of opportunities for his team-mates and assisted in one of the goals. If not for a couple of brilliant Hugo Lloris saves, he could have found his name in the score-sheet also.

TheHardTackle’s Referee Report Card:
Oscar Ruiz (Colombia) – C
The Colombian official can be given an average rating at the most. The Gourcuff sending off was a huge mistake, an unintentional elbow never warranted such a stringent punishment. Later on in the match, he failed to notice an obvious handball from Theiry Henry. Ruiz will not be eager to remember this night for long.

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MATCH STATISTICS

South Africa 2-1 France
Venue: Bloemfontein Free State Stadium
Attendence: 38891

South Africa Line-Up: Josephs, Ngcongca (Gaxa 55’), Mokoena, Khumalo, Masilela, Pienaar, Sibaya, Khuboni (Modise 78’), Tshabalala, Parker (Nomvethe 68’), Mphela
Manager: Carlos Alberto Parreira
Caution: None
Sent-Off: None
Scorers: Khumalo (20’), Mphela (37’)

France Line-Up: Lloris, Gallas, Sagna, Squillaci, Clichy, Diarra (Govou 82’), Diaby, Gignac (Malouda 46’), Gourcuff, Ribery, Cisse (Henry 55’)
Manager: Raymond Domenech
Cautions: Abou Diaby (71′)
Sent-Off: Yoann Gourcuff (26’)
Scorers: Malouda (70’)