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Posted on: Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Bafana win the battle but lose the war

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Bongani Khumalo

Bongani Khumalo

Bafana Bafana took advantage of a depleted and dispirited France team to run out deserved 2-1 winners in their final World Cup Group A match at the Free State Stadium in Bloemfontein yesterday afternoon. It was a much-improved performance from the South Africans, who were soundly beaten by Uruguay in their previous fixture in Pretoria Accommodation last Wednesday.

Carlos Alberto Parreira’s men, under pressure to record a win to restore national pride, produced the goods against their highly-ranked opponents with defender Bongani Khumalo (pictured) and striker Katlego Mphela banging in goals in the 20th and 37th minutes respectively. In reply, Raymond Domenech’s outfit could only muster a 70th minute effort from Florent Malouda.

Although Bafana won this game convincingly, the result was not good enough to secure ‘The Boys’ a place in the second round of the competition after Uruguay defeated Mexico 1-0 in another Group A match in Rustenburg. That result left Mexico with the same number of points (four) as South Africa, but their superior goal difference (1 as opposed to –2) earned them entry into the last 16.

Bafana started this encounter rather hesitantly but soon found their rhythm against a team that had been ridiculed in the press after a string of poor performances and reports of infighting and discord in their camp. Khumalo sent the 39,415 fans in attendance into raptures of delight when he headed the ball into the net in the 17th minute after meeting a perfectly placed cross from Siphiwe Tshabalala.

Stung into action, France pressed forward in search of an equaliser but some stout defending from the hosts thwarted their efforts. Then came the moment that buried ‘The Blues’ and opened the door for a possible big win for Bafana.

French playmaker Yoann Gourcuff, leaping up into the air to meet a free-kick, drove his elbow into the jaw of Macbeth Sibiya who went down in a heap. The incident initially appeared intentional, but television replays seemed to suggest that Gourcuff had simply stuck out his elbow as part of his effort to get to the ball.

Colombian referee Oscar Ruiz seemed unsure as to how to rule on the matter, until the sight of a prone and seemingly unconscious Sibiya prompted him to pull out a red card and give the 23-year-old Gourcuff his marching orders. Things deteriorated for France when Bafana striker Katlego Mphela added a second goal on 37 minutes, bundling the ball over the line after a square pass from Tsepo Masilela.

With South Africa already 2-0 up and 53 minutes plus extra time still to play, the big score (a victory by up to six goals) which Bafana needed to progress to the last 16 seemed possible, but sadly never materialised. Mphela could have scored a brace five minutes into the second half when he ran onto an intelligent through pass from Tshabalala, but his shot grazed the side of the post.

That effort aside, Bafana hardly threatened their opponent’s goal in the second 45 minutes with France goalkeeper Hugo Lloris, who had earlier made a hash of collecting Tshabalala’s cross which resulted in Khumalo’s goal, more than up to the task of parrying a number of long range efforts. In fact, it was France, despite the disadvantage of playing with just 10 men, that had the better of proceedings in the second half.

They played much more positively up front and defended with far more conviction than they had done in the opening 45 minutes – the inclusion of  veteran forward Thierry Henry making a significant difference to their play. ‘The Blues’ pulled a goal back after 70 minutes when Franck Ribery suddenly sparked into life with a sniping run that set up an easy tap-in for substitute Malouda.

With 20 minutes plus extra time still left on the clock and France suddenly only a single goal down and gaining momentum, a comeback seemed likely. However, it was not to be as some stout defending from the hosts thwarted France’s attempts at finding an equaliser.

Despite their win South Africa became the first World Cup hosts to fail to make it to the last 16. One win versus a loss and draw with three goals scored against five conceded is seldom going to get a side through to the knockout stages of soccer’s greatest tournament, and so it proved to be with Bafana’s crushing 3-0 loss to Uruguay ultimately proving to be their downfall.

Nevertheless it must be said that Bafana restored pride with their victory over much higher ranked (ninth as opposed to 83rd) opponents. In fact, the win was Bafana’s first against a major footballing power and Parreira was well aware of his side’s significant achievement.

I am proud of the boys. They made this country proud. They proved that they have made progress,” said an upbeat Parreira after the match. France coach Domenech remarked: “Like everybody we’re sad and disappointed even if in that game I saw a bit of what I expected from that team, some heart, generosity and solidarity.”

It was a sad ending for Domenech and his team who had a disasterous World Cup campaign, drawing 0-0 with Uruguay in their opening match in Cape Town and going down 2-0 to Mexico in Polokwane last Thursday before yesterday’s defeat. Their campaign was also marred by controversy.

France’s players had refused to train on Sunday in protest at the sending home of striker Nicolas Anelka for swearing at coach Domenech. “This is not the time to analyse what happened,” said Domenech. “This team have true potential. There were extraordinary moments and there will be more. The France team will never die. They will carry on,” he added.

Indeed, France’s loss against Bafana was somewhat contentious, especially when Sibiya made a miraculous recovery after appearing to be unconscious following his contact with Gourcuff. It seemed like the 32-year-old midfielder had made a meal of the incident in the hope of getting his opponent booked.

If so, it worked like a charm as Gourcaff was sent off, weakening France and setting Bafana up for the win. Parreira’s men would have probably won anyway, but being outscored in the second half despite having the extra man was perhaps a sign that Bafana did not really have what it took to make it to the last 16.

Other results (From left to right, African teams in bold)
Monday
Portugal 7 – North Korea 0
Chile 1 – Switzerland 0
Spain 2 – Honduras 0

Yesterday
Nigeria 2 – South Korea 2
Greece 0 – Argentina 2

Standings (GD = goal difference)
Group A
Pos      Team              GD       Pts
1.       Uruguay        4        7
2.       Mexico          1        4
3.       South Africa -2       4
4.       France          -3       1

Group B
Pos      Team              GD       Pts
1.       Argentina       6        9
2.       South Korea   -1       4
3.       Greece          -3       3
4.       Nigeria -2       1

Group C
Pos      Team              GD       Pts
1.       Slovenia        1        4
2.       USA              0        2
3.       England         0        2
4.       Algeria -1       1

Group D
Pos      Team              GD       Pts
1.       Ghana 1        4
2.       Germany        3        3
3.       Serbia           0        3
4.       Australia        -4       1

Group E
Pos      Team              GD       Pts
1.       Holland          3        6
2.       Japan            0        3
3.       Denmark        -1       3
4.       Cameroon -2       0

Group F
Pos      Team              GD       Pts
1.       Paraguay       2        4
2.       Italy             0        2
3.       New Zealand  0        2
4.       Slovakia        -2       1

Group G
Pos      Team              GD       Pts
1.       Brazil            3        6
2.       Portugal        7        4
3.       Ivory Coast -2       1
4.       North Korea    -8       0

Group H
Pos      Team              GD       Pts
1.       Chile             2        6
2.       Spain            1        3
3.       Switzerland    0        3
4.       Honduras       -3       0

Upcoming fixtures
Today
Slovenia vs England – Port Elizabeth – 4pm
USA vs Algeria – Pretoria – 4pm
Ghana vs Germany – Soccer City – 8.30pm
Australia vs Serbia – Nelspruit – 8.30pm

Thursday
Slovakia vs Italy – Ellis Park – 4pm
Paraguay vs New Zealand – Polokwane – 4pm
Cameroon vs Netherlands – Cape Town – 8.30pm
Denmark vs Japan – Rustenburg – 8.30pm

Useful Links:
2010 World Cup Stadiums
South Africa Hotels
South Africa Accommodation

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