Forget all the pre-match hype about Uruguay’s tension. Forget their tepid display against France. Forget the fact that they almost didn’t even qualify. But remember this performance – a classic example of free-flowing, stylish football. Not only did Oscar Tabarez’s men beat the hosts, they slaughtered them; mainly down to the outstanding performance from Atletico Madrid’s Diego Forlan.
Forlans’ inspiring display silenced his critics and the previously relentless South African crowd, abruptly halting the Bafana Bafana’s qualification charge in the process. The hosts lined up with what was essentially the same side as the encounter with Mexico, although Tsepo Masilela replaced Twhala at left-back. Tabarez however, decided to add another attacking dimension to his side, starting with Forlan, Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez up front.
The first twenty minutes were suggestive of two tired teams, with the play petering out innoculously. Katlego Mphela saw a tame shot comfortably held, whilst at the other end Forlan saw two efforts fly harmlessly wide. The ringing sound of the much-debated vuvuzela’s began to drone into a period of relative tranquility – until Forlan silenced them completely. The long-haired frontman picked up a loose ball around 35 yards out and charged towards goal, unleashing a dipping strike that clipped the head of Aaron Mokoena and left Khune helpless; finally showcasing the unbelievable dip that the Jabulani ball possesses. It was a true contender for goal of the tournament, sparking wild celebrations from the outnumbered South Americans inside the stadium.
Forlans’ strike seemed to take the sting out of South Africa’s meek attacking force, with supposed ‘star player’ Pienaar regularly out-muscled and wasting goalscoring opportunities. Mphela had a glancing header saved by the Uruguayan ‘keeper, before a ten-minute burst of pressure cheered on by the partisan home support. Hitman Mphela saw yet another close-range header narrowly miss the target, before cult figure Siphiwe Tshabalala saw a long-range rocket blaze over. Yet this dominance was ended with a fine example of counter-attacking football. Kagisho Dikgacoi lost possession midway inside the Uruguay half, and suddenly it was three-on-three. Cavani slipped the ball to the perservering Suarez – albeit via a deflection – and the Ajax stiker rounded Khune before being taken out on the edge of the six yard box. The referee had no choice but to send off the stopper, leaving Moeneeb Josephs with the enviable task of facing a Forlan penalty. Forlan clamly stepped up to blast the ball into the roof of Josephs’ net, resulting in the exit of many despondent South Africans.
There was still time for South Africa to try and regain some pride, with Tshabalala and Gaxa providing a threat from either flank. But it was all to no avail. Suarez broke free once more and crossed for Alvaro Perreira to head home, giving Uruguay a three-goal cushion; almost certainly booking their passage into the last sixteen.
For South Africa, the prospect of qualification from Group A looks bleak. They must now overcome France, hope that their is a clear winner in the Uruguay-Mexico encounter, and swing a large goal difference in the process – all without Khune, Dikgacoi (through his second booking), and most importantly the belief of the nation.