It was nearly a great story and a dream start for the host nation. The Bafana Bafana were just over ten minutes away from pulling off one of the most famous victories in the history of their country, but fell short. The full-time whistle was greeted with silence and disappointment, but on true reflection, the South Africans should be pleased with the outcome of the match.
Although the home side’s counter-attacks were stunning, South Africa’s defending left a lot to be desired. It was only a question of when, and not if, Mexico would equalise. The goal was always bound to happen. In fact, the manner in which the goal was scored, wasn’t a surprise either.
Marquez equalises for Mexico!
An unmarked Rafael Marquez had ample time to score, after the Bafana defence were caught out by a short corner. Skipper Aaron Mokoena was the culprit for the goal as he was the only South African to have failed to push out, thus enabling three Mexicans to spring the offside trap and roam free inside the penalty area. It was a rookie mistake which won’t please coach Alberto Parreira at all.
The home side’s defending on set pieces was shocking all game long, only to be bailed out by a freakish offside trap and Franco’s poor finishing. The Mexicans seemed to get their heads to the ball first, on almost every occasion. Early in the game, Franco’s near post dart saw him free to head the ball into the stands, when he should have done way better. Another corner saw a Mexican head flicking the ball into a dangerous zone.
Yet another corner resulted in Franco reaching the ball just before the South African goalkeeper Khune, who was left flapping at thin air. Luckily, Khune had charged so far from goal that it meant Vela was offside inside the six-yard box.
It was baffling to see how unorganized South Africa were at set-pieces. And they didn’t learn either, as Guillermo Franco was left unmarked just before half-time, from a free-kick, only for the striker to somehow deposit the ball well over the bar from six yards out.
While one can list the frailties in South Africa’s suspect defence, their counter-attacking was a joy to watch and everything we expect from the World Cup. At times, the free-flowing yellow shirts could have been mistaken for a Brazilian outfit. A quick one-two in midfield to suck the Mexican midfield and defence inside, and a raking ball to an oncoming runner from behind. And how that paid off !
Goal scorer Tshabalala’s constant urge to bombard forward was duly rewarded, when he ran from his own half to finally pick up the ball behind the defense and apply an equally spectacular finish to the move.
Bafana’s lone striker Mphela’s pace and strength to hold up was also well exploited. If he had converted his chance at the end of the game, the world would have been talking about another wonderful counter-attack, straight from the keeper’s hands!
Overall though, Alberto Parrera relies on his team’s solidity at the back and a quick ‘smash and grab’. But will today’s performance be enough to beat Uruguay or France, two teams with a wonderful strike-force?
Perhaps, the knowledgeable crowd inside the Johannesburg stadium knew the answer, and hence, weren’t exactly celebrating a wonderful opening to the World Cup.
A lot of improvement still needs to be done if South Africa are to successfully hurdle the group stages..