Friday, 11 June 2010

South Africa v Mexico

South Africa 1 - 1 Mexico
Tshabalala 55 Marquez 79

The first game was given to ITV, which now means Adrian Chiles. This is fine, but I wanted him to carry on doing Match of the Day Two. Especially as his spat with the BBC had nothing to do with football. If you ask me this is symptomatic of the way football related matters are constantly being mucked about by other concerns.

People who don't like football are always moaning about how it interferes with other things, but what about the way other things interfere with the football? I seem to be literally the only person I know who's put their life on hold for a month. Baffling.

ITV have also got Lucas Radebe, who spoke quite movingly actually about growing up within sight of the old Soccer City, and now getting to see the whole world come to the new one. He sure can't play the vuvuzela though. Thanks by the way to Grace Dent on Twitter, who wanted us to know her vuvuzela was red hot after all the action it was getting. Follow her and Caitlin Moran, if you do such things, they've got the hottest vuvuzelas in the business.

The opening ceremony was mainly people singing and dancing, but we all knew it was just a matter of time before the papier mache model with people in it came on. Would it be a lion? Or a springbok? Oh. It's a dung beetle. And there's a giant football. No, don't. Too late, they've done it. The dung beetle is rolling the giant football around. It's symbolism, you see. Football is shit, they're saying.

Back to the singing and dancing after that, and more football symbolism from Hugh Masakela, a man whose entire frame seemed to be crying I did! I ate all the pies! After him we went from the substantial to the ridiculous, with R Kelly. This is what he said about his song. I’m really hoping that with this song we can promote world peace first, and help with global-warming, and humanity around the world. This is my hope. I believe that music can guide us and lead us into a world of peace.

The rest of us were just hoping there was nothing about midgets, and we got our wish. How global warming was helped, and which direction it was helped in, remains unclear. I suppose they couldn't have used Diana Ross, and at least they didn't try to get him to shoot or anything, but it was still a baffling choice.

As was Jim Rosenthal for the role of linkman. "I'll be in every stadium for every game for you", he said, and his rictus of triumph boded ill for all his rivals for the post. A nation's armchairs creaked as we all checked our jugulars reflexively.

Onto the game, and the big news is, South Africa weren't shit. Let's be honest, we'd all been secretly dreading watching them getting hammered. I've taken the piss out of the opening ceremony, but I think most people want South Africa to come out of all this well, and today they just about did.

The fear was obviously there in the buildup. The depth of desire both within and for them feels irresistible, said commentator Peter Drury, and the homoerotic subtext served merely to cover the real, subsubtext. Please don't be shit. Austria and Switzerland were shit at Euro 2008, and we really didn't want that for the first African World Cup. No home nation has ever lost their opening game, he added for good measure.

But in the end it was fine. Mexico dominated the early stages, Giovani nearly punishing a goalkeeping error in the second minute and Franco squandering two clear headers, but the South Africans steadied themselves and after fifteen minutes Pienaar had a shot from a nice passing move, which seemed to settle them. They still looked vulnerable to defensive errors, though, and Giovani was unlucky not to capitalise on a loose pass when his shot went wide.

Towards the end of the first half Mexico had their best ten minutes of the game. Franco got free in the box from a Vela pass, and Khune did well to keep it out. He did even better from a corner a few minutes later, rushing out to catch Vela offside even though Pienaar was still on the goal line, and rule out an apparent Mexico goal. Because it isn't just one player that needs to be nearer the goal to prevent offside. It's two, including the goalkeeper. Vela forgot, but Khune didn't.

But just as you were fearing for South Africa, they had a good spell of their own. Gaxa missed a shot when he fell over in the box, Mphela nearly got on a Tshabalala cross and Dikgacoi headed wide from a corner, and Mexico will have been the happier to hear the half-time whistle.

Incidentally, am I the only person who can't hear the name Tshabalala without thinking of the Carpenters? You know, every Tshabalala, every wo-oh-uh-oh, still shines. The commentator clearly did, for why else would he have accidentally called him Shalalala once by mistake?

And he broke Mexican hearts and really made them cry ten minutes into the second half, with what will surely be one of the great goals of the tournament. There are times when you get an eerie feeling that you've just seen something you'll never forget. He just picked it up, ran into space, hit it from thirty yards and it flew over Perez into the top corner.

It didn't actually fly, of course. It obeyed the laws of physics, like balls do. It took off with a certain velocity, reached its maximum height and started to return to its original height, before being intercepted by a net. It described a parabola, or something. Or maybe a hyperbola. You're all my gimps, you tell me.

But physics and sublimity aren't mutually exclusive, which is fortunate or sublimity couldn't exist. Drury called it a goal for all Africa!, which is strictly speaking a lie, but it really felt like one of those they think it's all over moments.

It couldn't last, and after a long period of minimal creative flair Mexico got a goal back not long before the end. Marquez wasn't picked up in the box, the ball landed right at his feet, and he just knocked it in at the near post. In fact there were four Mexico players free, which Andy Townshend thought was a failure to mark. I thought the whole South African defence were playing for offside except one, a common recipe for disaster and a great shame.

Mphela nearly won it in the last minute when he got free in the box, but he hit the post. A minute later, a cross skidded across the box just in front of him. They've still got a point from the game, though, and the shock of hey! they weren't shit! rebounded around the world. Next Wednesday it's Uruguay, and if they can beat them they're in with a great chance.

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