… For all those who love to bash soccer because of the presence of ties, perhaps today wasn’t the day to argue with them. In one instance, we saw where a tie could still produce an enthralling match, as hosts South Africa held on for a tie against Mexico (or perhaps, it was the other way around). In the afternoon match, well, only the last few minutes saved it from being somewhat less than spectacular, as France and Uruguay skated to a 0-0 draw.
Let’s take the opener first. My prediction in this one was 2-1 to Mexico, thinking that South Africa would come out with a lot of spirit and effort, but once that faded, the better team would take over and go on to get the three points.
But strangely for Mexico, that never happened – and had Katlego Mphela gotten more of a solid hit on his breakaway shot in the final minutes, instead of scuffing it and hitting the post, we’d be looking at Mexico sitting in the bottom of Group A tonight, and what surely would have been wild celebrations in South Africa.
The game played out much the opposite as how I’d envisioned. Mexico were on the ball early and scored, only to have it rightly waived off for offside. Not captializing on their advantage in the run of play may have frustrated Mexico, but in the second half, South Africa went one better than simply holding the Mexicans off – they scored on a counter when Siphiwe Tshabalala fired a well-taken rocket past Mexico goalkeeper Oscar Perez to give the hosts the lead. It was a shot of high quallity that any player in this tournament would have been proud of.
As the second half went on, Mexico seemed lost at sea. To his credit, coach Javier Aguirre kept trying to right the ship – first with 59-year-old Cuauhtémoc Blanco in the 69th minute, then Javier Hernandez 4 minutes later. But it wasn’t until South Africa had its one and perhaps only defensive lapse of the game, leaving several Mexican attackers unmarked at the top of the 18, that Mexico finally drew level. Rafa Marquez’s goal just 11 minutes from full time rescued a point for Mexico. South Africa will be unhappy not to have won, but given the other result, a tie isn’t so bad. They’ll be frustrated over the goal – South Africa seemed to be trying an offside trap, but it was disorganized and the Mexican players, without even making runs, found themselves open in their own little pack – leaving Marquez to score easily once the ball was played in.
Beyond that moment, however, I was pretty impressed with South Africa’s defending. But if it’s defending you wanted (for some strange reason), Uruguay took it to another level in the nightcap.
Seemingly with just one hope of scoring – through Diego Forlan – Uruguay sat back and absorbed pressure, and when France threatened, the blue wall of Uruguay turned Les Bleus aside time after time. It got so frustrating for France that even Thierry Henry resorted to pleading for a handball. The Irish side of me cackled just a wee bit in that moment.
Henry had one final glorious chance – a free kick from a somewhat soft foul just outside the Uruguayan 18 in stoppage time. But his “blast” hit the wall – just as the entire France team seemed to have done all game long. They’ll be unhappy, what with Group A’s penthouse there for the taking after the Mexico-South Africa stalemate, not to mention having those two sides still to play. In theory, this should have been France’s easy game, and they made a mess of it.
On the other hand, Uruguay are for the most part to be commended. Diego Lugano, Diego God