The moment had finally arrived. Speeches were made, anthems were sung and the 2010 World Cup was finally ready to start. Desmond Tutu, Nobel Peace winner was his usual beaming self clad in assorted Bafana Bafana regalia. Thousands of vuvuzelas blared as South Africa's dream finally became a reality but now it was down to the serious business of playing soccer.
South Africa started off nervously as might have been expected getting few touches in the early going as Mexico was given a lot of space in midfield. A few nervous moments in the South African defense caused some anxiety, particularly down the right where Paul Aguilar was constantly getting the better of Lucas Thwala putting through a few dangerous balls. Within two minutes, Aguilar spilt the defence with a cross fumbled by Itumeleng Khune, the goalkeeper but Aaron Makoena was able to cleari t away.
South Africa started to get a bit more of the ball but still looked unsettled. Mexico was looking as good as advertised, and was being allowed far more space in midfield by the tentative South Africans.
On 15 minutes, Guillermo Franco got in front of his marker from a corner but blazed it over. A minute later South Africa had their first look at goal from a free kick 25 yards out but Steven Pienaar put it well over the bar. Mexico continued looking at the better side but Khune dealt comfortably with any danger.
South Africa was starting to look a little more comfortable with better passing but without much penetration. In the 32nd minute, Carlos lifted a lovely little through-ball to Franco, but the shot was comfortably saved by Khune.
On 37 minutes, Franco deflected a corner into the path of Carlos Vela, who scored but the goal was ruled offside. To their discredit the ESPN commentators (who should know better) claimed it should been allowed because a defender was on the line. True, but prior to the deflected header, Khune had gone on safari into the penalty area, leaving Vela with only one defender behind him. The commentators eventually corrected themselves but to all those fans I have seen complaining about the decision online, go read the rule book.
Two defenders have to be behind the man. Only one was.
In the last few minutes of the first half, a sustained bout of pressure led to a series of corners, almost bringing South Africa joy when Katlego Mphela came agonizingly close to heading in a cross from Siphiwe Tshabalala.
The half ended 0-0.
The second half saw an immediate and needed substitution for South Africa when Thwala was replaced by Tsepo Masilela at left back. South Africa began the second half with much more purpose and was giving Mexico a lot less space in midfield. They also put together more effective passes, themselves.
10 minutes into the second half, Tshabalala scored a brilliant goal when he was put through by a superb through-ball from Kagisho Dikgacoi, racing in from the left, firing across the goal from just inside the area into the far corner. The stadium exploded, the vuvuzelas getting even louder if that is possible.
A few minutes later, South Africa was again on the backfoot when Khune had to make a diving save into the top corner to turn away Giovanni Dos Santos' shot for a corner.
Mexico brought on the veteran Cuauhtemoc Blanco in the 66th minute for Carlos Vela. A minute later, Siboniso Gaxa latched onto a through ball inside the area when he appeared to be pulled down, although the ref waved play on. On the replay it looked as though the defender had pushed him down by the shoulder.
Mexico were starting to look dispirited despite having used all their substitutions. South Africa's fitness and confidence were giving them the edge until the 78th minute when either a complete defensive lapse or an offside trap gone very wrong left Makoena facing three unmarked attackers. Andres Guardado's cross found an unmarked Rafael Marquez who calmly put the ball away despite Khune's best effort.
Neither team seemed willing to settle for a draw as the game opened up. With a couple of minutes left, Mphela broke through and hit the post from an angle. Mexico tried one more attack on a South African defense that never seemed very comfortable, and the whistle blew a few minutes later.
All in all, a satisfying draw. Mexico can claim they were hard done in the first half when their efforts and domination came to nothing. South Africa can walk away with a point, and even though they are disappointed for giving up a sloppy goal and hitting the post, more importantly, they know that they can match many of the teams in the competition.
South Africa can now face Uruguay on the 16th knowing that they weathered the first storm. Mexico faces France, though no one has any idea which French team will show up.
Men of the match: Siphiwa Tshabalala (SA) and Giovanni Dos Santos (Mex).
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