“Zakumi’s © game is Fairplay.”
With a grandiose opening ceremony, where the Africans displayed their cultural diversity and imminent hospitality, the 19th edition of the FIFA World Cup kicked off at the magnificent ‘Soccer City’ in Johannesburg. The official match-ball ‘Adidas Jabulani’, which means ‘bringing joy to everyone’, was unveiled at the opening ceremony. Many performers graced the occasion with style and panache, and left behind memories of an amazing show-piece extravaganza.
As the host, South Africa was handed the traditional responsibility of starting the first match of the tournament with highly ranked Mexico. The match started with Mexico’s Giovani Dos Santos looking in impeccable touch. Within the first five minutes, he had already made the opposite keeper block a close-range blast and also see off a long-distance scorcher after having made a driving run into the South African penalty area.
The South African key man Steven Pienaar, who plies his trade at Everton in the English premiership, got the responsibility of taking the first free-kick of the tournament and he sent the ball wide. Mexican winger Efrain Juarez was shown the first yellow card of the tournament after a cheeky foul. Meanwhile, Arsenal’s Carlos Vela came up with an audacious chip-cross to feed Franco inside the penalty-area, which the latter couldn’t send over the advancing Itumeleng Khune. Santos had a few more chances at goal, all of which were deflected wide. Soon, Carlos Vela almost started celebrating his first goal of the World Cup from a corner, but was adjudged offside thanks to a new yet dubious offside rule. The first half also saw Franco making a mess of at least two clear-cut chances with headers.
Siphiwe Tshabalala looked the most dangerous player for Africa on both sides of the half-time break. His scorching runs from the left wing and his fearsome crosses made life uneasy for the El Tri. In the 55th minute, thanks to an excellent through ball, Tshabala was left with acres of free space; without any hesitation he smashed the ball past Oscar Perez to score the first goal of the Fifa World Cup, and adorned it with some glitzy goal celebration with his team-mates.
The second half belonged to the Bafana Bafana boys, as they showed clear counter-attacking intent every time the Mexicans gave the ball away. But there had to a tragic turning point to the match; the local dreams were shattered by a side-footed Rafael Marquez blast, to bring the score line to 1-1 in the 79th minute. The Africans did get one final chance in the dying stages of the match, when Katlego Mphela hit the cross-bar with the clueless Perez left stranded on his ground. With points shared between the two sides, Carlos Alberto Parreira would be mighty pleased with his team’s performance.
The second match of the day pitted former World Cup winners against each other. Uruguay tried to baffle the French team, which was already troubled by problems from within the management. Their retarded manager Domenech chose Sidney Govou over veteran Thierry Henry, and didn’t give the Chelsea player in super-form, Florent Malouda, a start.
In the early stages of the game, the Bayern Munchen star-winger Frank Ribery sent in a brilliant cross from the left, but Govou made a complete mess of a simple tap-in. Les Bleus had a lot of chances in the first half, including long range efforts, but the finishing was simply not good enough. Abou Diaby looked the most dangerous in the first half, easily skipping past players quite Patrick-Vieira-like, trying his best to create havoc in the Uruguayan half. Anelka, Gourcuff and Diaby had all taken attempts at goal but failed to add to the score line.Former Manchester United striker Diego Forlan was easily the best player for Uruguay, as he tried to create as well as score for his country.
Both sides created half chances on either side of the first half, but as the match progressed ‘the stale-mate score line’ looked quite impending. France clearly missed the services of their legendary play-maker Zindine Zidane, as they failed to create clear-cut chances in front of the water-tight Uruguayan defence. Ten minutes before time, Lodeiro was sent off as he clearly ‘showed his boot’ stamping on the foot of Bacary Sagna. Henry, who replaced Anelka in the second half, had a shout for a clear hand-ball turned down in the dying minutes of the match.
Points were shared yet again, leaving the Group A wide open.
Goal of the day: Siphiwe Tshabalala (South Africa)
The first goal of the World Cup could not have been any better than an excellent demonstration of counter-attacking football. After a series of passes, the South African striker Mphela dispatched the ball to Dikgacoi in the middle, who in turn sent a defense piercing through ball which Tshabalala latched on to, and after sprinting into the Mexico box, the winger let loose a ferocious left footed shot which sent the ball into the right corner of the goal. He signed off his goal in style with a wonderful goal celebration with his teammates.
Nearly moment of the day: Katlego Mphela(South Africa)
The Bafana Bafana crowd were about to witness a stunning victory when the striker ventured into the opponent box with a sight on goal, but uttered a collective groan as Mphela’s shot could beat the goalkeeper but not the goalpost.
Video Lullaby of the day: Uruguay vs France
With a flurry of yellow cards for both sides, the players became overtly cautious, and as a result the match meandered towards a tame draw. Certainly not the start one would have hoped for in a World Cup!