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South Africans must take heart from opener

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Jonathan Stevenson | 21:09 UK time, Friday, 11 June 2010

World Cup 2010: Soccer City, Johannesburg.

After a day of carnival celebrations in Johannesburg, South Africa's players left the field looking downbeat and demoralised after a late double blow in their World Cup opener against Mexico.

Not only had Rafael Marquez's party-pooping 78th-minute goal cancelled out Siphiwe Tshabalala's wondrous opener, but with seconds left star striker Katlego Mhpela saw his shot almost unbearably strike the post.

As keeper Itumeleng Khune knelt prone on the floor and his team-mates collectively trudged off the pitch, they had the look of a side whose World Cup dream was already over.

But they needn't be dejected for long. After being taught a footballing lesson for the best part of an hour by Mexico, Bafana Bafana proved they have the heart for the battle that lies ahead by fighting back to earn a crucial point, a fact manager Carlos Alberto Parreira - in his record sixth World Cup campaign as a coach - understands only too well.

"As the game progressed, the players became more relaxed and I think they have broken the ice in terms of playing in a competition like this," said the 67-year-old Parreira. "I believe in the next match we will be even more confident."

The wily Brazilian knows that few teams can have played under such intense pressure in the first game of a World Cup, especially when you consider they are a country that has never qualified from the group stages before.

saf595.jpgThe disappointed South African players applaud the fans at Soccer City

South Africa, it is worth remembering among all the hype, had only been present at two World Cups prior to Friday, with a grand total of one win, three draws and two defeats on their resume.

They may well have gone into the game on the back of an unbeaten 12-match run, but the weight of history was bearing down on them whichever way they turned. Ask any South African and they will be able to tell you that no World Cup host nation has lost their opening game or failed to get out of the group stage. They've been told often enough.

Factor in an open-top bus parade through Johannesburg on Wednesday before their campaign had even started, and a visit from president Jacob Zuma - who asked them if they could win the trophy - on the same day, and you can understand why the players may have felt some anxiety.

"That was a lot of pressure for my team out there," added Parreira. "It is really hard to play well in front of around 90,000 with so much expectation upon you."

If they had seen the Bafana Bafana supporters outside Soccer City after the game, the players would have had plenty of reason to feel proud of their efforts and confident that there are still many opportunities to make heroes of themselves.

Scores of fans lingered until well after the final whistle and the vuvuzela-led celebrations were by no means muted. As a nation South Africans take every available chance to party and Marquez's late intervention was not enough to dampen either their spirits or their enthusiasm.

"We'll beat Uruguay on Wednesday, no problem," one confident South African told me after posing for photos with a group of Mexicans wearing enormous sombreros. "And if we don't beat them, we'll just have to beat France."

Having supported England and Nottingham Forest all my life, I find such unwavering optimism ever so slightly unnerving. But I wouldn't bet against them pulling it off.

After all, they just don't do negative, these people and even when they get knocked out - whenever that may be - the World Cup will be a better place for their very exuberant presence.


  • Comment number 1.

    I was quite impressed with South Africa's performance. OK they didn't dominate the match but then neither did England when we played Mexico and look at the result we got. Maybe Mexico are one of those teams that just lacks cutting edge. To be honest they remind me a little of Arsenal. Good at keeping the ball but don't do as much as they should with it. Anyway, what also put South Africa's performance into context was the later match. France and Uruguay look alright but they're by no means unbeatable and now South Africa have the first game done and dusted the pressure's off and hopefully they will believe they can get a couple of good results and get out of the group.

    I wasn't looking forward to the vuvuzelas either, I thought they were going to be really annoying but I'm learning to embrace them. This is South Africa's World Cup and this is how they do things so I'm just going to get used to it and enjoy it all. Besides, if it means some of the dozey commentary from the likes of Tyldesley on ITV and Lawro on BBC is drowned out a bit then it'll be no bad thing!

  • Comment number 2.

    I agree will Lee that I have more hope for South Africa progressing out of the group stage now that I did before the tournament started and that my opinion is more down to the Uruguay-France game than the performance of Bafana Bafana. The fear that I would have would be trying to restrict the chances that Forlan and Anelka get in the remaining two games. Goalkeeper Khune could be called upon to make more saves of the quality he showed in keeping out Giovanni Dos Santos in the Mexico game.

    I really don't understand what all the hype around the vuvuzelas is to be honest, the noise really doesn't bother me. It might be that I'm a cricket fan and I'm used to similar horns being played by Pakistan fans at live matches I have attended. Personally I think it just shows the fans joy for their team and the tournament being in SA. Maybe in some parts of the world people complain about those England fans that always sing the Great Escape theme! - English Footballers Abroad

  • Comment number 3.

    Bafana Bafana! It was a callow, nervy team that started the game. Mexico got easy opportunities in early minutes but young Giovani's nerves in the strike area did not match the talent the left-footed cherub evinced the entire game.

    The South Africans were a much settled lot in the second half. The goal that came from their live wire Tshabalala was a great team goal. If they can pass like that well-oiled machine, and later one or two times to Mpela, they have the ability and credentials to emerge from the group.

    It looked too clean a game of footy and SA have some fleet footed forwards that can outpace their markers. Against Uruguayans it may look like a street fight in comparison. I think they will need to take their chances on Wednesday rather than later against France. The French may have engendered some hopes for their opponents but I think they have the stuff to play much better than what they put on the pitch last night.

    Mexico too got a good goal, but the way Marquez found himself utterly unmarked says a thing or two about Bafana Bafana alertness in defending. It was scarcely a melee. The Mexicans had had easier opportunities earlier, this conversion was a bit of a surprise. A more experienced team may not have conceded.

    Keeper Khune had a great game. His opposite number also brought off one stirring save.

  • Comment number 4.

    To me, this was an excellent game, it had drama and excitement. 1 point a piece for all 4, 2 games to decide who advances. I think Bafana Bafana with the home crowd definitely have a chance now. In fact, if I were a betting man, I'd take them to advance. Could be draws again in the next game for all. France's group last time with Togo, Switzerland and S. Korea had a similar scenario.

    Also, I can't help but think the other African teams will find this performance by SA to be very inspirational, going into the Nigeria/Argentina game hours away, I've got to think Argentina is a cinch but we'll see. Diego is the coach but Argentina certainly bushwhacked Serbia last time. It's not out of the question that a similar result could happen but I hope not.

  • Comment number 5.

    A very good result for Bafana. Our defence was caught out on more than one occasion and had we been playing a team with more clinical finishers, the result could have been very different.
    We'll never get away with that kind of defensive display against the likes of Ribery, Anelka and Henry.

    Siphiwe Tshabalala is a gem! Never mind the goal, this guy has been our most potent attacking weapon.

    France started the last world cup slowly and got better as the tournament progressed, hope they continue like this this time around:-)

    Bafana can definetly take heart. And if they want to know how an S.A team can beat a France team, watch the Springboks do it this afternoon:-)

    Bafana Bafana!!!

  • Comment number 6.

    The SA goal was an outstanding move and finish, and they can certainly take heart from the last half an hour of the match.

    After 30 seconds of watching my wife said "What is that horrible noise, it's giving me a headache, I guess I won't be able to watch any of the World Cup this year" and promptly left the room. The vuvuzelas didn't annoy me that much, but they would if someone was blowing one right in my ear!! And they are no replacement for a good chant, something which was really missing from yesterday's match. I am a bit worried that with so few travelling fans this year thousands of horns will drown out any attempts at getting a good atmosphere going.

  • Comment number 7.

    After watching the game I'll be watching the rest of the world cup on mute.

    The vuvuzelas are very annoying and I don't need some hyped up commentaor describing what I can see with my own eyes anyway.

    The problem is at work. Yesterday the TV in the "break out area" had it's volume turned up and is about 20ft from my desk, I spent the entire match annoyed at what sounded like the worlds biggest bee buzzing around!

    Unfortunatly I've allready seen some of the local chavs with these things.

    Thank you South Africa for ruining the world cup, and possibly many more sports events to come with these increadably annoying thing.

    Why can't you just chant like fans everywhere else?

  • Comment number 8.

    The important thing for South Africa was not to lose the opening game. They have a point and their game against Uruguay will be huge.

    Given the performance by the French last night, I don't think it's certain they will win the group. They could drop more points and the last round of matches will be interesting.

  • Comment number 9.

    Very impressed by the tournament's start, the stadium was magnificent and the atmosphere generated by the crowd was great - didn't even mind the vuvuzelas! The goal celebration dance after Tshabalala's strike for S.A. was fab too.

    My only gripe would be Fifa insisting every stadium use that horrible brown livery making them all seem pretty identical to stadia in Germany and before that Japan/S.Korea who used blue and yellow I think. If it wasn't for the vuvuzelas you probably wouldn't notice the matches were in Africa apart from the crowds - they should allow more individuality..hopefully that will change as we go further on.

    Group A seems pretty open football standards wise, so Bafana Bafana do stand a chance...which can only be good!

  • Comment number 10.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • Comment number 11.

    I was disappointed that stadiums were not full on the first day, I thought they would be busting - is it because of the price of the tickets?

  • Comment number 12.

    I like the way South African fans keep celebrating this historic event in their country. Elsewhere in the developed or the developing world fans would be reluctant to celebrate so early. Great to see the young and not so young with such happy and joyful faces. Hats off to Bafana Bafana and their fans.

    Dr. Cajetan Coelho

  • Comment number 13.

    Where are the drums?

    I grew up in West Africa, and football matches there are festive occasions, with lots of colour, chanting, singing, dancing, and rhythmic drumming.

    All I can hear from these matches is those bloody horns. They only remind me of Africa in the sense of mosquitos, not the joy of a football match.

    I hope the World Cup comes to West Africa soon. Then the world will see and hear what a real African football carnival sounds like - with music that has been around for centuries rather than twenty years like the vuvuzelas. (Sorry music fans for categorizing vuvuzelas as musical instruments)

    PS: I've compiled a list of African goals scored at World Cups and am most annoyed that I've only been had to add one 2010 goal so far... Ghana, you better do the business tomorrow boyz! After all, we're only facing Serbia... even Lithuania beat them 2-1...

  • Comment number 14.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.


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