Brave Bafana look ahead
Johannesburg - Africa's first World Cup opened with a pulsating 1-1 draw between South Africa and Mexico as a late goal deprived the hosts of victory in Soweto, Johannesburg, on Friday in front of more than 84 000 passionate fans at the magnificent Soccer City.
Bafana did themselves and South Africa proud and are still in the World Cup after their pulsating 1-1 draw with the 17th best side in world soccer -- Mexico -- in the historic opening match of the 2010 World Cup finals played in front of a capacity crowd at Soccer City on Friday.
The woodwork saved favourites Mexico when a shot from striker Katlego Mphela cannoned off the post in the last minute. The groan of the Bafana fans could have been heard as far as Cape Town.
Bafana showed that they are going to be a force to be reckoned with during the tournament and in the near future. This draw stretches Bafana's unbeaten record to 13 matches under head coach Carlos Alberto Parreira.
What makes this draw special was the fact Bafana were outplayed in the first half but stormed back after halftime, dug deep and showed tremendous character by taking the game by the scruff of the neck. They took the lead in the 55th minute by what could become one of the goals of the tournament by new rising star Siphiwe Tshabalala.
"The draw was a fair result. I think this group is very tough. The team that gets four points will qualify," said South Africa coach Carlos Alberto Parreira. "I praised my team. We could have won the game but the result was fair.
Mexico coach Javier Aguirre added: "Their goal changed the match a lot. I wouldnt say we got nervous but a little bit anxious. We tried to change our play and we managed to draw but it wasnt enough. We have to praise our opponents."
The tournament was opened to much fanfare by SA President Jacob Zuma accompanied by Fifa president Sepp Blatter.
Mexico were on top in an action packed first 45 minutes. The Mexican fans drowned out the vuvuzelas and the shell-shocked Bafana fans in the capacity crowd. Nerves seemed to get to Bafana playing at home, in front of 84 950 spectators in the opening 2010 World Cup Group A clash at the new multi billion Soccer City in the opening period.
Bafana goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune was the star of the first half for Bafana, making a number of crucial saves and keeping the home side in the game.
Bafana head coach Carlos Alberto Parreira, who won the World Cup in 1994 with his native Brazil was out of his dugout early in the first half screaming orders at his side who allowed Mexico too much room and showed too much respect.
Bafana had a narrow escape in the 38th minute when Mexico's Arsenal star striker Carlos Vela had a goal disallowed for offside.
Khune did brilliantly in the second minute to palm away a shot from dangerous right wing Paul Aguilar. Mexican dangerman Giovanni dos Santos came close with a curling 20 metre drive that flew centimetres past the woodwork on 19 minutes.
Khune then produced another great save from Aguilar a minute later. Mphela forced a save from Mexican keeper Oscar Perez in the 23rd minute.
Khune them pulled off the save of the half in the 32nd minute when he threw his body on line to block Dos Santos from close range.
Bafana finished stronger with Kagisho Dikgacoi heading over the Mexican crossbar in the 45th minute after a series of corners.
But the fact Mexico failed to break down the Bafana defence would have given the home side and Parreira some hope at the interval.
Parreira replaced Orlando Pirates Lucas Thwala with more experienced Israel based Tsepo Masilela at halftime in a bid to counter the raids down the right flank by Aguilar.
Then came the goal that brought the house down in the 55th minute.
Tshabalala got the ball on the left, cut inside and beat Perez with a goal that will be remembered for years to come, to put Bafana 1-0 ahead.
Khune meanwhile pulled off another amazing save form Dos Santos in the 60th minute as the Mexicans tried to regroup and level the game.
Bafana now settled and started to boss the game by keeping possession and playing to their strengths of playing the short ball to feet.
Tshabalala was inspired. Every time the Kaizer Chiefs left wing got the ball the crowd went wild.
Bafana could have been 2-0 ahead in the 70th minute when Teko Modise raced into the Mexican penalty area but as he was about to pull the trigger on his right foot, Mexican defender Francisco Rodriquez stuck out a foot and saved the danger.
But the 17th world ranked Mexicans showed why they are so highly rated and dangerous when the chips are down when they punished a bad defensive error by Bafana in the 79th minute to level this nail-biting clash.
Mexico's Barcelona ace Rafael Marques found himself unmarked at the far post and blasted home a Vela free kick from close range, giving Khune no chance, to make it 1-1. It was easy picking for a player who helped Barcelona to the La Liga championship and last season's European Champions League title.
Bafana tried to hit back in the 81st minute when right back Siboniso Gaxa went on the over lap and tested Perez with a rasping drive that the Mexican keeper did well to save.
Then came the heartbreak when Mphela struck the post in the last minute as Bafana threw everything at the Mexicans looking for the win.
Bafana play two-time world champions Uruguay in their next Group A match at Loftus in Pretoria on Tuesday night.
South Africa: 16-Khune, 2-Gaxa, 4-Mokoena, 8-Tshabalala, 9-Mphela, 10-Pienaar, 11-Modise, 12-Letsholonyane, 13-Dikgacoi, 15-Thwala, 20-Khumalo
Mexico: 1-Perez, 2-Rodriguez, 3-Salcido, 4-Marquez, 5-Osorio, 6-Torrado, 9-Franco, 11-Vela, 12-Aguilar, 16-Juarez, 17-Dos Santos