Friday, June 11, 2010 ESPNsoccernet: June 12, 6:28 PM UK
Jabulani provides no joy in bore draw
Jayaditya Gupta, Green Point Stadium
It needed more, much more, than the Jabulani to instil some joy into this uninspiring match, stifled by Uruguay's defensive mindset on the one hand, and France's muddled thinking on the other. France had the talent and experience to tilt the game but, by the time their heavy artillery came on - Thierry Henry and Florent Malouda had no more than 18-odd minutes together - it was too little and far too late.
• Uruguay 0-0 France: Drab draw
• Domenech left frustrated
• Marshall: Flat France falter
• Match Gallery
• Podcast: A Tale of two draws
Perhaps the script was written before the game - well before the game in Uruguay's case, with coach Oscar Washington Tabarez announcing on Thursday his intention of playing three central defenders in a bid to stifle the French. For France, the disruption to their preparations has been public knowledge for some time now and lent credence to rumours of a pre-match row between Malouda - who started from the bench - and his coach Raymond Domenech, whose tactics seem increasingly bizarre.
To start without both Henry and Malouda seemed folly; to pursue with the ineffective Sidney Govou - reportedly one of the two players whom his peers wanted dropped - for 85 minutes was doubly so, given his profligacy in front of goal. The pity for France was that they enjoyed so much domination - especially down their left, even after both Franck Ribery and Patrice Evra picked up yellows. What they lacked was a clinical finisher with big-match experience and tactical nous; the difference showed when Henry and Malouda were in tandem.
They soon won the one-man advantage but ran out of time before they could convert it into a goal. One attack, though, brought the game's only moment of humour (unintentional, of course). That was two minutes from the end, when Henry claimed for handball in the penalty area. It's not just the Irish who remember the infamous incident - Uruguayan supporters in the stands, once they'd got over their indignation, had a chuckle over the cheek of it.
Uruguay, for all their defensive play, will rue not taking more from this game; an early goal could have had France on the rack and, late in the second half, before Nicolas Lodeiro's sending-off, they showed signs of exploiting French nerves. But Diego Forlan and Luis Suarez rarely looked like adding to their 71 goals for the season and, superbly marshalled as they were by William Gallas and Eric Abidal, lacked effective service from the midfield. The telling statistic of their game was their failure to win a single corner.
If there was one more villain of the piece it was the Jabulani ball, which on first sighting looked every bit like living up to the hype - that it would be difficult to predict. The Jabulani - which means "joy" - has been criticized by current and former players, and not just goalkeepers. Today it seemed to cause problems for both striker and 'keeper who faced similar problems in gauging its swerve, dip and bounce. On one occasion in the first half, a flick near his own penalty area by Evra sent the ball sailing to Fernando Muslera in the Uruguay goal; on another, Hugo Lloris in the French goal madly misjudged a ball coming in and was almost made to pay by Suarez.
In this most boring of draws there were losers - the 64,000 fans, some of whom had travelled thousands of miles to watch their teams and most of whom had played exorbitant rates for their tickets. They started in a spirit of anticipation, borrowing the vuvuzela as a means of joyous expression and incorporating vigorous floor-stomping into the Mexican wave. But as the match went on, and the chances of a goal receded, they made their feelings clear - and it was not a pleasant sound.
There were winners in this game, though; Uruguay will be happy with a point and South Africa and Mexico would have watched from their hotel rooms in Johannesburg with the knowledge that the group is wide open and that France are still there for the taking. Any more games like this, though, and forget the Jabulani, even the vuvuzelas won't keep the spectators awake.