At half-time in this Group A encounter, the unthinkable was on the horizon. South Africa were beating France, Mexico were losing to the impressive Uruguay; only the virtue of two goals left the Bafana Bafana on the brink of qualification – but it was not to be. Carlos Parreira’s side became the first ever host nation to exit at the group stage despite a performance full of spirit and endeavour, although they may well be reflecting on countless opportunities to win the game by a larger margin.
The rumours that some of France’s biggest stars would boycott the match failed to materialise following the full-fledged and extremely public squad division, although captain Patrice Evra was dropped to the bench. Parreira surprisingly named Khuboni ahead of Teko Modise, with Khune and Dikgacoi missing out through suspension.
The hosts began at quite a tempo, providing free-flowing football at its best; something previously unseen from South Africa. Tshabalala and Pienaar dominated the possession from either flank, with Mphela missing the target with a skewed shot just five minutes in. The fanatical home support were sensing a goal – and it only took twenty minutes to arrive. A Tshabalala corner was completely flapped at by Hugo Lloris leaving Bongani Khumalo to open the scoring, albeit off of his shoulder. Unlike their previous goal against the Mexican’s, there was no extravagant celebration; South Africa were intent on scoring more.
Just six minutes later, France’s farcial World Cup took a further turn for the worse. A Franck Ribery corner was only headed upwards by Macbeth Sibaya, and as the lanky centre-back went to clear the ball, Yohann Gourcuff clashed whilst challenging. The referee showed no hesitation in sending off the young French midfielder, although replays provided conclusive evidence that his dismissal was harsh to say the least.
But with the Mexico-Uruguay encounter still 0-0, any South African victory would be pointless. And even if there was a victor, the hosts would have to score more to be in contention. Katlego Mphela started this inspiration just ten minutes before half-time, after bundling home a cross-cum-shot from Khumalo despite the best efforts of Gael Clichy. With news filtering through that Luis Suarez had given Uruguay the lead, many thought that South Africa were destined for the last sixteen.
France shouldn’t have been taken lightly however, with sporadic attacks showing a glimpse of their previous abilities. Ribery’s in-swinging free-kick managed to evade all defensive cover, requiring Josephs’ to make a smart reflex save, before Diarra saw a long-range effort fly wide.
After half-time, the hosts saw a number of chances to decrease the gap in goal difference go by to no avail. Tshabalala’s glorious through-ball sent Mphela away, but his dink clipped the outside of the post. Bernard Parker saw a header evade the far post, before Mphela had a stinging dive tipped expertly away from goal. It seemed inevitable that South Africa would increase their lead, but their attacking style left gaping holes in defence – something that France seized upon. Bacary Sagna’s delightful pass found the reborn Ribery, who beat Masilela for pace before squaring to Malouda to tap into an empty net. Bloemfontein, and all of its’ vuvuzelas’, were completely silenced.
South Africa still had further chances to increase their lead, but found Lloris at his very best. Tshabalala had a close-range effort parried to safety, whilst cult-hero Siyabonga Nomvete blazed high and wide. At the full-time whistle it was clear to see the despair on the faces of many South African fans, although they can be proud of their nations’ spirited displays – finally showing that they can compete with the best.
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