Bafana exit World Cup on a high

23 June 2010

Bafana Bafana bowed out of the 2010 Fifa World Cup with heads held high in Bloemfontein on Tuesday, playing with style and belief to score South Africa’s first ever win over France. The 2-1 victory left them placed third in Group A, level with Mexico on four points, losing out only on goal difference.

Bloemfontein is renowned for its passionate football fans, and a crowd of 39 415 at the small Free State Stadium made the crowd appear much bigger than it was. The place was rocking, and the South African supporters were rewarded with an equally passionate performance by Bafana Bafana.

Aaron Mokoena and company showed huge appetite for the contest, which contrasted markedly with a deflated looking French squad. For most of the game, France, World Cup finalists only four years ago, were laboured and poor.

French problems

There had been huge problems in the French camp in the lead-up to the match, with the squad refusing to train on Sunday after striker Nicolas Anelka had been sent home on Saturday. This followed a bitter tirade he had launched at coach Raymond Domenech at half-time of France’s 2-0 loss to Mexico.

Further evidence of the discord in the French camp was evident in the benching of captain Patrice Evra for Tuesday’s clash, with Alou Diarra taking over as captain.

In the tunnel before the teams took the field, the difference was clear: France looked tense, talking in muted tones, while there was a determined look in the eyes of the South Africans, a oneness that was lacking in the French team.

South African changes

South Africa showed a number of changes, through suspensions and the need to attack and find another gear going forward. There were starts for Moeneeb Josephs, Anele Ngongca, MacBeth Sibaya, Thanduyise Khuboni, and Bernard Parker.

France were the first to make any sort of waves once the contest was under way. Andre-Pierre Gignac managed an early shot on goal, but it was directly at Josephs in the South African goal and he had no problems dealing with it.

In the 10th minute Djibril Cisse steered a glancing header goalwards, but once again it went straight into the welcoming arms of the goalkeeper.

South Africa’s first effort on goal came in the 17th minute when MacBeth Sibaya took a shot from distance, but it flew high and wide.

Bafana Bafana had struggled to make much impact on the French defence, finding it hard to penetrate at all in the final third of the field, but that was soon to change.

Goal!

On 20 minutes the home team won its first corner of the game. Siphiwe Tshabalala swung it in. goalkeeper Hugo Lloris started to come for it, but then back-pedalled. The ball flew over his head to the back post and central defender Bongani Khumalo, showing plenty of desire, rose up and headed it down into the ground.

The ball bounced up and into the net and the crowd exploded with joy. Khumalo took off towards the crowd, blowing kisses, and for a moment Bafana Bafana supporters began to dream that the big win they needed to reach the next round might be on.

Cisse responded with a shot a few minutes later, but it was a harmless effort that passed wide of Joseph’s left hand post.

South African striker Katlego Mphela then made a mazy run from halfway to deep inside the French half. He fired from the top of the box and Lloris needed to pull off a good save, diving to his right, to deny Mphela.

Red card

A minute later the game took a decisive turn in favour of South Africa. MacBeth Sibaya and Youann Gourcuff rose to contest a header in South African territory. Gourcuff caught Sibaya with an elbow in the face and the midfielder went down. It didn’t look like there was too much in it, a yellow card maybe, but.

The referee, to the surprise of most, produced a red card and the French were down to 10 men! Matters were going from bad to worse for Les Blues.

For a while after the sending off, the game struggled to find some rhythm, but Bafana Bafana slowly started to make use of their one-man advantage.

Steven Pienaar earned a free kick on the right, outside of the box, and Siphiwe Tshabalala fired a shot not far over the crossbar.

Two goals up

A minute later, in the 34th minute, Bafana Bafana went two goals up. Tsepo Masilela initiated an attack down the left and laid the ball off for Tshabalala, who had an overlap.

He centered and the ball ricocheted off a defender back to Masilela, who had continued his run. He crossed the ball on the ground and square to Mphela, who bundled it across the line from only two metres out.

South Africa were two goals up and the French well out of the game. Once again, the South African fans began to dream.maybe an improbable place in round of 16 was on the cards.

In the back of the net

Almost immediately Bafana Bafana had the ball in the back of the net again, but Bernard Parker, who had struck a sweet shot was rightly ruled offsides.

France’s best moment of the half came with half-time approaching when Josephs fended off a dangerous looking free kick that William Gallas just failed to get a touch on.

Two minutes from the break, Mphela once again tested Lloris with another long range effort that passed across the goalie. He was forced to deflect it behind for a corner.

Good value for their lead

The half ended with South Africa 2-0 up and good value for their lead. The crowd was happy and with Uruguay 1-0 up against Mexico, the possibility of progressing looked reasonable, if unlikely, as the home team had France on the rack.

French coach Raymond Domenech made a change at the start of the second half, bringing on Florent Malouda, which added some sting to France’s attacking efforts.

South Africa, though, were the first to ask a question when Parker fired a left-footed shot on goal. Lloris dealt with it comfortably, however.

Beautiful move

Then followed a beautiful move by Bafana Bafana. Pienaar passed from the middle of the park to Tshabalala, who found himself on the right. He picked out Mphela, steaming up on the left, with a fantastic ball between the two central defenders.

The striker was in the clear, with only Lloris to beat. The goalie raced out and made himself as big as possible. Mphela shot to the left of Lloris and the ball grazed the outside of the goalie’s left hand post. It was a glorious opportunity spurned.

On the sidelines, Bafana Bafana’s reserves, who were busy warming up, held their hands to their heads in unison.

Ngongca was then replaced by Siboniso Gaxa after picking up an injury and Thierry Henry came on for Djibril Cisse. With his 17th World Cup finals appearance, Henry equalled the French record.

Just before the hour-mark, Mphela tested Lloris with another excellently struck shot from distance, forcing the net-minder to concede another corner.

Weak shot

Franck Ribery made a good run into the South African box but, surrounded by three defenders, produced a disappointingly weak shot that passed high over the crossbar.

Mphela then had another good chance to extend Bafana’s lead. He found space on the right, rounded the defence and closed in on the goalkeeper in the box. Lloris blocked the shot with his legs and the ball deflected back into the striker and out for a goal kick.

Siyabonga Nomvethe, the scorer of the goal in South Africa’s only previous World Cup finals win – 1-0 over Slovenia in 2002 – was brought on for Parker after 68 minutes.

French goal

On 70 minutes, France, showing more fight and rhythm, pulled one goal back. Bacary Sagna picked out Ribery on the right with a lovely pass. Ribery could have shot but, astutely, he drew Josephs before centering the ball. Malouda ran onto it and scored from an easy tap-in.

The goal effectively killed off South Africa’s dream of an improbable place in the next round.

Pienaar came ever so close to providing Khumalo with his second goal in response, his free kick passing only centimetres from the defender’s head in front of the French goal.

Three minutes of additional time was shown to be played and it provided some stirring action. Teko Modise, on for Thanduyise Khuboni, fired off a strong shot into the side netting from the left and then followed a great chance for Bafana Bafana.

Great chance

Tshabalala was picked out in the goal box after Nomvethe had left a cross from the right. He had plenty of time and space to shoot, but Lloris reacted quickly to try to close him down. Tshabalala fired and the ball almost stopped, spinning on the spot. The South African midfielder raced to pick up the rebound, but Gallas was on hand to clear.

Not long afterwards the final whistle sounded and South African supporters were left with a strange mixture of pride and disappointment. It had been a gallant effort by the national football team, but it had not been enough to clinch a place in the round of 16.

With Uruguay beating Mexico 1-0 in the day’s other Group A contest, South Africa finished level on points with the Mexicans, but lost out on goal difference. Mexico had scored three goals and conceded two in their three games, while Bafana finished with three scored and five given up.

Uruguay topped the standings with seven points, while France finished bottom with only one point and the single goal they scored against Bafana.

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