On a cool Thursday night, Polokwane saw a match in which the Mexicans wanted the win more than anything else in life and the French wanted to be anywhere else except playing in the World Cup. At the end, the score was joy of soccer 2, misery of self-centredness 0.
The impeccable pitch of the Polokwane stadium was not really a battlefield tonight, but a presentation ground of different approaches to life, the universe and everything. Mexicans wanted the win; they dreamed about it; they approached the match as though nothing else existed. French players had to think about, well, everything else: which one of their team “mates” they liked and which one they didn’t like and were not really willing to pass the ball to; how would breaking more sweat impact their image of coolness; and who were all these people around here and why were they shouting?
Okay, maybe not entirely like that, but the French football team tonight was a picture of continued disgrace, one that started long ago in Dublin. It didn’t help that the Mexicans happened to know their sport: they were quick, resolute, committed and knew why they were there: because they love to play, because nothing else fills them with pride and pleasure like the satisfied supporters’ roar of approval.
Photo: Mexican fans celebrate a goal as they watch the match between Mexico and France during 2010 World Cup, in Zocalo Square in downtown Mexico City, June 17, 2010. REUTERS/Eliana Aponte
It was difficult to watch the remaining game in the group A without getting angry with French all over again. They cheated their way into South Africa. They treated the highest honour in the world soccer, participation in the World Cup, in the same way that they won it, cheaply and disgracefully. Even more annoyingly, if that’s possible, they have deprived Ireland of the opportunity to be here and fight their hearts out for the dream.
Tonight’s result was bad news for Bafana Bafana, as it is almost certain now that they will not qualify for the next round. But, they will make us all proud if they play against the French on with honour and pride. Because even more than the result, honour and pride matters. That way, there will be at least one team that cares about those things on the Bloemfontein pitch next Tuesday night.
Here are the reporter’s notes.
France: Hugo Lloris; Bacary Sagna, Eric Abidal, William Gallas, Patrice Evra; Jeremy Toulalan, Abou Diaby; Florent Malouda, Franck Ribery, Sidney Govou; Nicolas Anelka.
Mexico: Oscar Perez; Efrain Juarez, Rafael Marquez, Francisco Rodriguez, Carlos Salcido, Gerardo Torrado, Hector Moreno, Ricardo Osorio, Giovani Dos Santos, Guillermo Franco, Carlos Vela.
Man of the match
Giovani Dos Santos
Before the match
France make just one change to the side that drew against Uruguay. Florent Malouda starts in place of Yoan Gourcoff.
Mexico have made a change of their own, with Paul Aguilar making way for Hector Moreno.
The interesting thing about Jabulani is it has been used in the Argentinean and German leagues (among others), and those countries have produced the highest-scoring games so far. Seems like it boils down to a matter of familiarity. Never mind the climate or altitude – the ball is what you have to get used to. That said, there’s really no reason for South Africans to take criticism of Jabulani personally. It’s Adidas who should be facing that.
- 1st minute: Florent Malouda delivers a free kick, but it’s defended easily by the Mexicans.
- 2nd minute: Dos Santos is caught offside, but thumps the ball against the French goal posts. A little warning to France there.
- 4th minute: Yellow card to Guillermo Franco. What for, exactly?
- 4th minute: Free kick taken by Nicolas Anelka, but it goes over.
- 5th minute: A lunge on Diaby by Torrado earns France their second free kick. It fizzles out.
Where did Sydney Govou get time to braid his hair? Surely they should be practising, or something?
- 8th minute: Vela gets a great chance, but skies it ridiculously.
- 9th minute: Free kick to France. Malouda whips it in. Oscar Perez fists it out. William Gallas is offside, and the referee gives it to the Mexicans.
I would like to see Memo Ochoa in posts for Mexico. I’m not convinced Oscar Perez is a better choice.
- 11th minute: Guillermo Franco turns Abidal, but can’t find goal.
- 18th minute: France were a little exposed in defence there, and Carlos Salcido almost punishes them for their mistake, but his shot is wide.
- 19th minute: Free kick to Mexico, 29m out. Rafael Marquez decoys, and Giovani Dos Santos buries the shot into the wall.
- 25th minute: Jeremy Toulalan sets Florent Malouda up for a header, but it’s too far for the French midfielder to attempt a shot at goal.
- 27th minute: Carlos Salcido makes a great run and fires in from a slightly acute angle, and William Gallas, who was right in front him, doesn’t make a tackle. Hugo Lloris makes the save.
Vela is out, having the back of his knee sprayed. He’s back up quickly and will resume playing shortly.
Photo: France’s fans react in front of a giant screen near the Eiffel Tower in Paris June 17, 2010, as they watch Mexico beat France in their 2010 World Cup soccer match. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier
- 31st minute: Pablo Barrera comes on for Vela, who is in too much discomfort to continue.
- 32nd minute: Barrera puts Lloris under pressure from a Suarez cross, and manages to reach it at the same time as the French keeper, but it goes wide. The Mexican substitute has made an immediate impact on the game.
- 35th minute: Gerardo Torrado fancies his chances, but his long shot is struck too high.
- 37th minute: Mexico’s skipper Marquez fouls Malouda and gives France a free kick in a promising area. Frank Ribery takes it, but it’s another free kick that simply doesn’t get past the opposing wall.
- 39th minute: Dos Santos manages to fend Patrice Evra off for a shot at goal, which goes wide. He did well, considering how off-balance he was.
The vuvuzelas have become quieter as the tournament progressed, enough for the Mexican fans to fill the stadium with their trademark roar tonight.
- 44th minute: Anelka, who hasn’t had as great an impact on this game as you’d expect, shoots from just outside the penalty box, but Perez is more than up to the challenge.
Yep, the vuvuzelas are much quieter. The booming announcement can be heard clearly in the stadium.
- 45th minute: Ribery drops to the ground, and a free kick is given. Rather unfairly if you ask me.
- 46th minute: Toulalan gets a yellow card for a ridiculous tackle on Guillermo Franco. He will miss the match against South Africa next Tuesday.
End of the first half.
Andre Pierre Gignac comes on for Anelka. I didn’t expect that. Frankly, I’d take Sydney Govou off.
- 46th minute: free kick to France and Ribery will take it. Can he break the free kick/Jabulani curse? Nope.
- 48th minute: Efrain Juarez picks a yellow card for pushing Malouda in the back. His indiscipline means he misses the next match.
- 49th minute: Hector Moreno lunges at Ribery and gets a yellow card for his efforts. Mistimed rather than malicious.
- 50th minute: Bacary Sagna fouls Salcido, and it’s free kick to Mexico. Marquez takes it, but opts to flick it to Dos Santos. It comes to nothing in the end.
Both keepers have had rather uneventful matches so far.
- 53rd minute: Malouda sets himself up for a drive, and the Mexican keeper is given something to do at last.
- 54th minute: Manchester United’s latest signing, Javier Hernandez, comes on for Efrain Juarez. Smart move, that. Juarez has not had the coolest of heads this evening.
The referee has a word with Andre Gignac. Play is getting dirtier as the frustration builds.
- 58th minute: Eric Abidal bundles Dos Santos off the ball. Free kick to Mexico, and it’s a wasted effort.
- 62nd minute: Cuauhtémoc Blanco comes on for Franco,
- 62nd minute: Good, clean strike by Marquez, which Lloris tames easily.
Photo: Mexico’s Javier Hernandez scores past France’s goalkeeper Hugo Lloris during their 2010 World Cup Group A soccer match at Peter Mokaba stadium in Polokwane June 17, 2010. REUTERS/Charles Platiau
- 64thth minute: Hernandez does brilliantly to beat Lloris after Marquez flicks it over the French defence. Mexico are in front! Hernandez was all alone in that, the French defenders thinking it was an offside. It was inches close. Great goal.
France are in all sorts of trouble now. So are South Africa, incidentally.
- 69th minute: Govou finally comes off, and Valbuena comes on.
- 70th minute: Dos Santos passes a low ball into the French penalty area, but there are no team mates to collect it. Dos Santos has been all over the field today, creating enormous problems for France.
- 72nd minute: Malouda’s cross goes out wide.
- 74th minute: Malouda sets Gignac up with a cross and his effort goes, wait for it… over the Mexican goals.
- 76th minute: Mexico get their first corner of the match. They take a short one, but it’s caught by Lloris.
- 77th minute: Eric Abidal brings Barrera down in the penalty area, and it’s a penalty!
Photo: France’s Eric Abidal tackles Mexico’s Pablo Barrera (front) during their 2010 World Cup Group A soccer match at Peter Mokaba stadium in Polokwane June 17, 2010. The play ended up with a penalty awarded to Mexico. REUTERS/Henry Romero
- 78th minute Blanco takes an enormous run up, and puts it behind Hugo Lloris. 2-0.
Photo: Mexico’s Cuauhtemoc Blanco (C) celebrates after scoring a penalty against France’s goalkeeper Hugo Lloris (R) during a 2010 World Cup Group A soccer match at Peter Mokaba stadium in Polokwane June 17, 2010. REUTERS/Henry Romero
- 82nd minute: Yellow card to Francisco Rodriguez for a hard tackle on Frank Ribery. Ribery’s free kick is terrible.
In the 1998 World Cup, France won the tournament. They crashed out in the group stages of the 2002 World Cup and were finalists in the 2006 World Cup. Is there a pattern here? They’re certainly on their way out here, not producing a performance worthy of a play-offs qualify.
- 84th minute: Javier Hernandez tries a shot, but it’s no problem for Lloris.
- 88th minute: Lloris charges out to deny Dos Santos a shot at goal. The Mexican looked certain to score.
- 89th minute: Valbuena attempts a shot from an acute angle, and for the umpteenth time this evening, a French shot is too high.
Mexico have won!
Report by Branko Brkic; Notes by Sipho Hlongwane
Main photo: France’s Abou Diaby (C) fights for the ball with Mexico’s Ricardo Osorio (R) as Guillermo Franco watches during a 2010 World Cup Group A soccer match at Peter Mokaba stadium in Polokwane June 17, 2010. REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado