Many a pundit predicted that Uruguay and Mexico would do the safe thing and draw their last-round game. Nothing could be further from the truth: Uruguay were professors and Mexicans eager students in a great display of footballing panache. It ended Uruguay 1, Mexico 0.
For once, Rustenburg’s Royal Bafokeng Stadium saw the game that didn’t end up in a draw (previous three games ended 1:1). It was the game that had a clear senior partner in Uruguay, whose confident performance was built upon their games against France and South Africa. Forlan and Company are a great team of experienced players. Their defence is rock solid and is yet to let anything through. Their midfielders dominate the game most of the times, while the Forlan-Suarez partnership up front is as good as any.
Mexico came into the game fresh after their great victory against the miserable French team. Their coach, Javier Aguirre, made the as-yet-unexplained decision to tap 37-year-old offensive midfielder Blanco instead Arsenal’s striker Vela, who was injured in the game against France. By the time Aguirre corrected his mistake and replaced Blanco mid-second half with the sensationally-talented Hernandez, the Mexican play was immediately energised. But the game was probably already decided by then.
Both Uruguay and Mexico have teams that can go deep into the next rounds of this World Cup. It will take a great team to break Uruguay’s lines, and they look certain to reach at least the quarter-finals. From their side, Mexico will have another go at Argentina. Their 2006 second-round match was one of the highlights of the World Cup in Germany, with Argentina winning only in the dying minutes of the match. Maybe this time Mexico will go a step further?
Before the match
Rafael Marquez’s captain’s armband was given to 37-year-old veteran Cuauhtémoc Blanco, who’s in for Arsenal’s Carlos Vela, out today because of a thigh injury. Still no start for Hernandez, the hero of the game against France, but he is likely to come on in the second half.
Uruguay starts with a full strength squad.
Mexico: Oscar Perez, Francisco Rodriguez, Carlos Salcido, Rafael Marquez, Ricardo Osorio, Geraldo Torrado, Guillermo Franco, Cuauhtemoc Blanco, Hector Moreno, Andres Guardado, Giovani Dos Santos.
Uruguay: Fernando Muslera, Mauricio Victorino, Diego Lugano, Jorge Fucile, Maximiliano Pereira, Egidio Arevalo Rios, Alvaro Pereira, Diego Perez, Diego Forlan, Luis Suarez, Edinson Cavani.
Man of the match
Will today’s opponents play for a draw that would see them both go through? Their coaches emphatically denied it before the game. It does make sense because both would dearly love to avoid Argentina, the likely winner of the group.
- 6th minute: Uruguay’s optimistic free kick from 40 or so metres.
It appears Uruguay’s players’ brief is to try to capitalise on the perceived weakness of Mexican keeper Perez.
- 6th minute: Louis Suares, after Mexican defence’s mistake, is left alone in front of Mexican goal, but sees his shot whizz past the far post.
- 7th minute: Blanco’s attempted header is stopped by Uruguay captain Lugano’s thigh, that goes unpunished by the Hungarian referee Viktor Kassai.
- 12th minute: Mexican defence’s very short back pass cleared by Perez at the last moment.
Uruguay started the game very boldly, with force and presence. Mexican defence looks rather shaky now.
- 19th minute: Mexican corner catches Hector Moreno’s lounging in the Uruguayan penalty space. He misses wildly, but the space he was afforded has to worry Uruguay’s coach.
- 22nd minute: Guardado’s thumping shot from 25m rattles Muslera’s crossbar. Absolute screamer. Uruguay counter-attack is lively, but the World Cup’s shortest goalkeeper Perez intercepts Forlan’s promising high-cross.
First 25 minutes thoroughly enjoyable. Both sides are obviously NOT playing for a draw. While Uruguay are enjoying most of the possession and spend more time in the opponent’s half, Mexican counter-attacks are very effective.
The stadium explodes as news of Bafana Bafana’s first goal against France starts filtering in.
- 30th minute: Mexico’s Santos has a strong sortie into Uruguay’s penalty box, only to be stopped at the very last moment by Jorge Fucile, whose intervention was outstanding.
Uruguay’s Perez is sporting a huge gash on his head.
- 32nd minute: Communication between Uruguayan keeper, Muslera and his centre-halves leaves a lot to be desired.
- 36th minute: News of Bafana’s second goal tests the structure of the stadium, with resulting seismic waves.
- 41st minute: Both teams have slowed down quite a bit over the last 10 minutes. Maybe the opening tempo was too much for them, maybe they’re waiting for half-time to recuperate.
- 43rd minute: Uruguay leads! Louis Suares scores his 50th of the season, with a brilliant, precise header after Cavani’s inch-perfect cross.
Great goal for Uruguay, great for the game, even great for Bafana, who are apparently thumping the clueless Frenchmen.
Photo: Uruguay’s Luis Suarez (rear) celebrates with team mate Egidio Arevalo during a 2010 World Cup Group A soccer match against Mexico at Royal Bafokeng stadium in Rustenburg June 22, 2010. REUTERS/Dylan Martinez
46th minute: Uruguay is now dominant side and Mexicans are very happy to hear the referee’s whistle.
- 47th minute: Mexico start aggressively. Blanco’s long-range free kick is retained confidently by Muslera.
- 50th minute: Cavani’s low shot from an acute angle flies straight to Perez.
Uruguay do feel senior partner in a dance. Their midfielders keep the ball confidently and above all Forlan’s passes are purposeful.
- 53rd minute: Mexico send more players forward. May cost them.
- 54th minute: Uruguay free-kick. Forlan crosses into the box and Lugano’s ferocious header is brilliantly stopped by Perez. Magic.
- 56th minute: Uruguay are playing really good-looking soccer at the moment…
Distressingly for Mexico, they did not have a scoring chance for a long time now. Uruguay are now outplaying them in every department.
- 63rd minute: Blanco is replaced by Hernandez, who almost immediately has a telling run that is stopped by brilliant defence. Sir Alex must be very happy with his purchase.
- 64th minute: Rodriguez wastes Mexico’s best chance of the game. His header flies past Muslera’s post by millimetres.
- 66th minute: Since Hernandez’s introduction, Mexico play with renewed energy. Will see how the great Uruguayan team will react.
- 68th minute: Incredibly, only now the first yellow card, for Uruguay’s Fucile after his foul on Mexico’s Santos.
- 70th minute: Uruguay are still in defensive mode, but are not showing signs of panic yet. It looks as though they will try counter-attacks through rarefied air of the Mexican defence.
- 78th minute: First big mistake by the Uruguayan defence as the corner cross flies through their penalty box without anyone tackling it.
Although Mexico enjoy overwhelming bulk of possession, they don’t have much to show for it. Even as Franco gets in front of Muslera, the ball harmlessly trickles into the keeper’s hands. Is it a sign of Mexican attacks’ ineffectiveness or Uruguay defensive quality. We think latter.
- 88th minute: Forlan’s dangerous long-range shot well stopped by Perez.
Three minutes of extra time.
- 91st minute: Forlan-led counter-attack is promising, but fizzles out.
- 93rd minute: Uruguay win Group A, without conceding a goal. Congratulations to Forlan and co.
By Branko Brkic
Photo: Uruguay’s Diego Perez (R) fights for the ball with Mexico’s Guillermo Franco, as he sustains an injury, during a 2010 World Cup Group A soccer match at Royal Bafokeng stadium in Rustenburg June 22, 2010. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi