So, this is what bittersweet tastes like...
This sentiment reverberated through Twitter as South Africa fell out of the World Cup tournament, despite winning their last group game against France. It was a resilient performance by Bafana Bafana, who defied almost every prediction to go one up against France in the 20th minute with a powerful header by Bongani Khumalo, who overpowered a French defender to reach the cross. It was an exciting first half to watch, with Bafana probing and prodding the French defence for the slightest gap to whip a shot in at Hugo Lloris.
Bafana Bafana were helped a little by a contentious decision from the Colombian referee. It came in the 27th minute, when Yoan Gourcuff slammed an elbow into Macbeth Sibaya’s jaw. The big South African midfielder, accustomed to the rough and tumble of the Russian football league, went down like a sack of rocks and had to be stretchered off for medical help. There was no doubt that there had been considerable contact, but did Gourcuff mean to jab his elbow out like that? He was contesting an air ball with Sibaya, after all. There was no doubt in the referee’s mind, who handed out a straight red card. The game suddenly changed for South Africa.
The Boys played with heart and soul, and were rewarded for their efforts again in the first half when Katlego Mphela found the back of the net. And just like that, the memories of that horrific loss to Uruguay were wiped away. Suddenly, we were only a whisper away from making it into the second round. Suddenly, Phillip was back (if you have to ask who Phillip is, don’t even bother).
But we should not forget how South Africa made it into the World Cup in the first place – by spending billions and billions of rands on stadia, hotel rooms and fast trains. We didn’t exactly play our way in. And despite the change-room scandals, the “eccentric” coach and the over-inflated egos, France still are one of the best football sides in the world. The introduction of Florent Malouda and Thierry Henry in the second half completely changed the face of the game with South Africa finding themselves on the back foot. As much as they had pluck, Bafana were a little short of ideas and eventually conceded a goal to the French. Frank Ribery and Malouda beat our defenders to put one past Moeneeb Josephs, and just like that, our party was over.
Uruguay’s 1-0 victory over Mexico meant that although Bafana were equal to Mexico in points, the Mexicans have a greater goal difference and will go on to meet the winner of Group B in the last 16.
But there is so much that our squad can take from Tuesday afternoon’s performance. We’ve proven to be a well-organised side that is capable of toppling even the great football powers. Almost every single player can look forward to a glittering future in football. Next stop, the Africa Cup of Nations.
South Africa may be out of the tournament, but the World Cup is still in our back yard. The party is not over.
France: Hugo Lloris; Bacary Sagna, William Gallas, Sebastien Squillaci, Gael Clichy; Alou Diarra, Abou Diaby, Yoan Gourcuff, Franck Ribery; Andre-Pierre Gignac, Djibril Cisse.
South Africa: Moeneeb Josephs; Anele Ngcongoa, Bongani Khumalo, Aaron Mokoena, Tsepo Masilela, MacBeth Sibaya, Thanduyise Khuboni, Steven Pienaar, Siphiwe Tshabalala, Katlego Mphela, Bernard Parker.
Man of the match
- 5th minute: Free kick goes South Africa’s way.
- 7th minute: Good communication between the South African back line to control and clear a Djibril Cisse cross.
- 10th minute: Cisse attempts a header, but does not beat Moeneeb Josephs.
- 12th minute: Gourcoff smashes a free kick straight down the middle, looking for a deflection of sorts. The ball doesn’t get past the Bafana defenders.
- 17th minute: Macbeth Sibaya has an attempt, but it goes high.
Sibaya has made 59 appearances for South Africa, but has never scored for his country.
- 19th minute: Tshabalala attempts a volley, but can’t match the spectacular form he found in the first match to score the first goal of the tournament.
- 20th minute: Corner to South Africa. Lloris misjudges the ball and Khumalo, who is just behind him, smashes a header in. Goal!
- 23rd minute: Another corner to South Africa, this time the cross is turned away by the French defenders.
- 23rd minute: Cisse rather selfishly attempts a shot from an impossible angle, and gets booed for his miss.
- 24th minute: Heart-stopping moments for South Africa. Katlego Mphela comes inches wide of going two up.
- 27th minute: A red card for Yoan Gourcuff! He charged into Sibaya, elbow extended, and almost knocked him unconscious by catching him in the jaw. Cisse thought for a moment that the red card was his, but he gets to stay on.
Was there or was there not intention in Gourcuff’s challenge? Another contentious red card in the 2010 World Cup. We’ll take what we can get.
- 33rd minute: Free kick to South Africa. Tshabalala takes it, and can’t find the goals. A little too much pace in his strike.
- 36th minute: Ngcongoa finds Tshabalala with a great cross, but the Kaizer Chiefs striker once again balloons the shot over the poles.
- 36th minute: Second goal to South Africa! Mphela finds the ball in the midst of a penalty area scrum, and puts it into goal.
Photo: South Africa’s Katlego Mphela scores their second goal against France during their 2010 World Cup Group A soccer match at Free State stadium in Bloemfontein June 22, 2010. REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado
- 40th minute: William Gallas almost pulls one back for France. He tries to connect with a dangerous free kick, but can’t get a touch on it.
- 42nd minute: Lloris parries a thunderous shot from Mphela.
South Africa suddenly believe again. There is boldness and confidence in their play. Just what we needed after that crushing defeat to Uruguay last week.
- 43rd minute: South Africa try to break after fending off a French attack. Great defending from Squillaci to deny Bafana Bafana the counter attack.
End of the first half.
Raymond Domenech has made a substitution during half time. Andre Pierre Gignac comes off for Florent Malouda.
- 48th minute: Bernard Parker gets a chance. Not a bad turn, but unfortunately not a great shot.
- 51st minute: Mphela brings the stadium to its feet with a glorious opportunity, but can only smack it against the bar.
- 54th minute: France aren’t completely out of this one. Cisse turns and shoots at Josephs’s goal, but has no luck.
- 55th minute: Thierry Henry gets a run-around, coming on for Cisse. Carlos Alberto Parreira makes a change, bringing on Siboniso Gaxa for Anele Ngcongoa, who seems to have picked up an injury of some sorts.
- 57th minute: Mphela again! He unleashes a vicious shot from distance, and forces Hugo Lloris to stretch every sinew in his body to save the shot.
- 59th minute: Frank Ribery unleashes a curler that goes over Josephs’s goal.
France are looking to get back in this game. They are currently parked in South Africa’s third half.
- 62nd minute: Mphela finds himself isolated on the side of the French penalty area, and can’t get a good shot in.
- 66th minute: Hugo Lloris is called upon to save another shot from distance, this one from Pienaar.
- 68th minute: Siyabonga Nomvete comes on for Bernard Parker.
- 69th minute: Oh dear. Malouda sinks South African hearts with a goal, after some brilliant running from Ribery.
- 71st minute: A yellow card to Abou Diaby for a lunge on Masilela. Khumalo almost connects with Pienaar’s cross.
The French are doing all the pushing and probing in this half. This will be the real test of South Africa’s mettle.
Photo: Seventy five year-old Zame Raymond (C) and her extended family cheer while watching South Africa play France in the 2010 World Cup in their driveway in the Eersterust neighborhood of Pretoria June 22, 2010. REUTERS/Brian Snyder
- 75th minute: Nomvete makes a powerful run into the French area, but over-extends his last touch and is beaten to the ball by Lloris.
- 78th minute: Thanduyise Khuboni comes off for Teko Modise.
- 79th minute: Long-range effort from Tshabalala, which goes high.
- 81st minute: Terrible effort from Henry, who should have tried to find Sagna or Ribery.
- 81st minute: Alou Diarra comes off for Sydney Govou.
- 82nd minute: Pienaar puts Nomvete in for a great shot on goal. Nomvete’s first touch is not good at all.
- 87th minute: Katlego Mphela is tired. He isn’t running with much energy any more. You must wonder whether Parreira has any more tricks up his sleeve.
- 91st minute: Teko Modise’s shot strikes the side netting.
- 92nd minute: What was that? What on earth was that? Tshabalala had a clear sight of goal, and only needed to chip it over Lloris. Instead, he smashes it against the French keeper.
End of the match. End of a dream.
By Sipho Hlongwane
Photo: South Africa’s Bongani Khumalo (L) celebrates his goal during the 2010 World Cup Group A soccer match against France at Free State stadium in Bloemfontein June 22, 2010. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi