Green Point Stadium in Cape Town shone brightly in all its resplendence as France and Uruguay squared off in the remaining match of the day. Of course, any Group A match is of great interest to South Africans and the result, a goal-less draw, was the best-possible one for all, especially Bafana Bafana.
Strange old game this is, soccer. After the high drama of the SA-Mexico game in Johannesburg, the Cape Town match appeared to be an altogether different affair: slower, less dramatic and, at least from France’s point of view, less motivated. There was also a poetic justice in France not wining and possibly hurtling towards elimination – after all, they cheated their way to the 2010 World Cup.
The French team was sporting some of the most famous players in Europe: Anelka, Henry, Evra, Galas, Sagna, Diabi and, of course, Bayern’s super-star Franck Ribery. And yet, having the most famous individuals rarely means the team is good. French stars barely speak to each other these days and their coach, Raymond Domenech is a particularly unpleasant fellow who never in his life managed to motivate anything more intelligent than chicken. From their side, Uruguay, while definitely a more cohesive team than France, also displayed a subdued, somewhat muted enthusiasm for winning the game. Their biggest stars, Atletico’s Forlan and Ajax Amsterdam’s Suarez, were just not clicking the way they’re used to.
Photo: Fans gather in front of a giant screen near the Eiffel Tower in Paris to watch the France vs Uruguay match on the opening day of the 2010 World Cup soccer tournament in South Africa, June 11, 2010. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes
The game was not without chances and drama, but was just so much less interesting and life-changing than the Bafana-Mexico game. It is entirely conceivable that both France and Uruguay breathed a huge sigh of relief after the end of this game, happy not to lose against each other and counting on collecting their points against Bafana and Mexico. If that was the case, they may be in for an awfully unpleasant surprise.
Here are this reporter’s notes:
Uruguay: Fernando Muslera, Diego Godin, Diego Lugano, Maximiliano Pereira, Mauricio Victorino, Egidio Arevalo Rios, Ignacio Gonzalez, Alvaro Pereira, Diego Perez, Diego Forlan, Luis Suarez.
France: Hugo Lloris, Eric Abidal, Patrice Evra, William Gallas, Bacary Sagna, Abou Diaby, Yoann Gourcuff, Jeremy Toulalan, Nicolas Anelka, Sidney Govou, Franck Ribery.
7th minute: France has a first chance as Sidney Govou misses Franck Ribery’s perfect, low cross that looked more difficult to miss then to score.
France is quicker to settle into the game.
12th minute: French captain, Patrice Evra of Manchester United, gets the fist yellow card. Not good, because he will have to be very, very careful for the rest of the game, lest he picks up a red card.
Uruguay’s mid-field is misfiring, leaving France plenty of space to organise their attack. Uruguay defends by creating a zone around the penalty box. In turn, French players often lob their crosses inside, hoping to reach Nicolas Anelka.
16th minute: Atletico Madrid’s Diego Forlan has a first clear sight of goal, forcing the French goalkeeper to save it in dramatic fashion.
18th minute: The French almost score as Yoann Gourcuff shoots straight into the goal, rather than crossing to Anelka or William Gallas.
Photo: Uruguay’s goalkeeper Fernando Muslera clears the ball during the 2010 World Cup Group A soccer match against France at the Green Point stadium in Capetown June 11, 2010. REUTERS/Oleg Popov
19th Ribery gets his first yellow card. The French may pay dearly for their lack of discipline at a later stage.
In the first 30 minutes, the game is open and relatively entertaining, though it lacks much drama. France does look better than in its warm-up games, but there’s still plenty of play left, and, for all its relative advantage, France is still ineffectual.
33rd minute: Green Point Stadium’s pitch looks slightly slippery. Some players and the referee have already slipped.
35th minute: Uruguay’s Forlan looks slightly out of sorts. His season at Atletico Madrid was long and successful, with a Europa Cup win as the cherry on top, but he looks tired and less than inspired.
38th minute: France’s defence relies on frequent offside traps to stop Uruguay’s top scorers, Forlan and Luis Suarez, which may fire back at them soon.
42nd minute: Anelka’s first relatively meaningful header slips well wide of Fernando Muslera’s gates. Anelka looks tired and bothered. It doesn’t look as if most of French players are terribly excited at playing tonight.
45th minute: First half over, it does start to feel like another draw is on cards in Group A.
48th minute: No substitutions yet, but France’s Raymond Domenech is warming up five players, including Thierry Henry. Something will have to be changed in their approach to game tonight.
52nd minute: Forlan shows his class by pacifying a difficult ball and shooting from an angle that was way too acute for a serious attempt. Still, it was a good show of control. French (and Arsenal) defender Galas, got slightly injured trying to stop him; being stomped on by studs is never painless and could be very dangerous later.
56th minute: Jeremy Toulalan’s speculative approach from 40m, but Muslera is way too classy a keeper to be troubled. Muslera looks world class so-far, composed and cool.
59th minute: First yellow card for Uruguay, Mauricio Victorino for a foul on Evra. Resulting free kick hands an exquisite shot opportunity to Ribery, which he wastes rather limply. Something is wrong with the French motivation for this game. Could it be true that they simply don’t like each other?
64th minute: Forlan tries to trouble French goalkeeper Hugo Lloris from a free kick, but not very successfully.
French team is appears not motivated to play, while Uruguay is trying to be patient and biding its time. Perhaps both teams would be happy with a draw.
Photo: Uruguay’s Diego Lugano (C) reacts after a challenge between his team mate Alvaro Pereira (L) and France’s Jeremy Toulalan (R) as referee Yuichi Nishimura steps in during the 2010 World Cup Group A soccer match at Green Point stadium in Cape Town June 11, 2010. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings
68th minute: First skirmish as Toulalan earns yellow card and Uruguay players are not shy in showing their displeasure over his seriously rough tackle on Alvaro Pereira. The referee’s quick intervention and Domenech’s instruction to Toulalan to pipe down defuse a situation that could become explosive.
71st minute: Henry replaces Anelka.
73rd minute. Forlan misses the best chance of the match, a sitter, one of those that you can’t see missed by the scorer of his calibre. That miss may cost his country a lot.
74th minute: Chelsea superstar Florent Maluda replaces Gourkuff. This could become interesting.
81st minute: Uruguay’s mid-fielder, substitute Nicolas Lodeiro, gets the first red card of the 2010 Fifa World Cup after burying his studs into Bacary Sagna’s shins and committing a second bookable offence. It will be a rough eight minutes for his countrymen. Forlan moves back into the mid field and it looks like Uruguay will spend the remaining minutes making sure it doesn’t lose.
88th minute: France is besieging Uruguay’s penalty box, but guys in blue are fighting with all their might.
89th minute: France’s penalty claim is not heard by the Japanese referee.
90th minute: Three minutes of stoppage time.
Photo: France’s Thierry Henry is blocked by Uruguay’s Maximiliano Pereira, Diego Lugano, Sebastian Abreu, Sebastian Eguren and Diego Forlan as he attempts to score a goal in 93rd minute. June 11, 2010. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
93rd minute: Free kick for France in a very dangerous position, right outside the penalty box. Captain Lugano earns a yellow card for protesting too loudly. Henry hits the wall and Uruguayan blood pressure is back to normal.
94th minute: All over.
Man of the match: Fernando Muslera, Uruguayan goalkeeper
Report by Branko Brkic
Main photo: Uruguay’s Egidio Arevalo (L) fights for the ball with France’s Nicolas Anelka during their 2010 World Cup Group A soccer match at Green Point stadium in Cape Town June 11, 2010. REUTERS/Carlos Barria