Wednesday, June 16, 2010
Hosts condemned to last-chance saloon
John Brewin, Lotus Versfeld Stadium
After Friday in Johannesburg had given hope to a nation, Wednesday in Pretoria could only provide a note as false as any sounded on a vuvuzela. Only a win from the final game with France can offer any chance of the host nation qualifying for the second round; a remote chance at best, even before their next opponents face the Mexicans on Thursday.
• SA 3-0 Uruguay: Forlan double
• Parreira slams referee
• Moonda: Fans left cold by defeat
With every team now having made their first show and very few of them impressing, South Africa and Uruguay led off a next tranche of matches from which the world implores more excitement. In being dominated and outclassed by a team supposedly only fifth-best in South America, only the worst fears of the hosts were realised as they ended the night in humiliation.
This tournament, while lurching into life after co-favourites Spain had been rolled over by the Swiss, was looking for a creditable performance from South Africa to maintain its outward sense of well-being. While the European-descended parts of South Africa's population are well-versed in the Euro and World game through satellite television, the majority black population held its interest on Bafana Bafanana, as the majority of the team's players are still plying their trade in domestic football.
After the glorious racket that had encouraged them at Soccer City on Friday, the fans 59 km up the road were clearly determined to match that level of din. A sea of green and yellow and a throb of those horns at first greeted the country's heroes but an underlying sense of tension enveloped both team and support. And despite that undoubted fervour, the worrying and indeed mystifying spectre of empty seats were visible in the stands. How a game that has obsessed a nation cannot be full is another searching question to be proffered to the organisers.
Uruguay have a history of upsetting host nations right back to 1950 when they denied Brazil the world title in the Maracana. Having already gained confidence by stifling the French, and perhaps sensing blood, their approach was to play an attacking line-up with Diego Forlan in the hole behind Luiz Suarez and Edinson Cavani. They maintained that impetus from start to finish.
As in Johannesburg, the hosts were troubled in the early salvos by the neater technique of their Latin American opponents and though Forlan's long-range opening strike owed much to a deflection off the shoulder of Aaron Mokeona, it was just desserts for an opening spell that had pinned back Bafana. And whereas Mexico's initial spell in the opener had borne little fruit, as they eventually fell victim to the South Africans' athleticism, the South Americans offered far more steel and strength.
The hosts were forced to wait until the 16th minute for anything approaching a chance when a neat move played in Siphiwe Tshabalala, who sensed the glory of the Mexico game when blazing over instead of threading in Steven Pienaar. Their next, fifteen minutes after Forlan's 24th minute goal, was merely a snapped header from Teko Modise. By then, tension had begun to seep into the home following. Even the vuvuzelas sounded subdued. Voices were actually audible, and each miskick and misfire was met with high-pitched exasperation.
Carlos Alberto Parreira may be a one-time World Cup winner but qualification for the second round of the 2010 edition with this group of players from a tough Group A may just be a far more difficult assignment than winning USA '94 with a team featuring Romario at the apex of his predatory best. Indeed, he later lamented Group A as being the toughest in the competition. Luck was ridden when Luis Suarez's excessive theatrics denied himself a penalty when Katiego Mphela had stuck out an errant leg, perhaps outside the box too, as Uruguay again exerted superiority from the beginning of the second half; a pre-whistle huddle and a hail of horns seemingly failed in their aims of inspiration to the home side.
With a lead to their name and the final whistle in sight, Uruguay reverted to their other type, that of spoilers as breaks in play became ever more pronounced. Nevertheless, they were still far more capable of creating the better chances with Cavani's fresh-air shot a far better chance than indifferent efforts from Mphela and Modise.
Disaster on the home front was confirmed when a lack of organisation and discipline allowed Suarez to beat the offside trap from a deflection off a Forlan shot. Khune's trailing leg denied the striker a goalscoring opportunity and the 'keeper was rightfully dismissed. Forlan's unerring penalty defied a deafening racket and sent the majority of fans streaming from the ground, as expectation completed its conversion into anger. It was left to the defiant followers of Uruguay, a small nation once again packing a punch on the world stage, to out-voice the home support's weapons of aural destruction as the agony was further piled on by Alvaro Pereira's late tap-in.
Parreira, in a defiant press conference, displayed almost admirable tunnel vision in lambasting the Swiss referee for his performance and even for smiling at the final whistle, a response that opposite number Oscar Tabarez found "laughable" considering the denial of other penalty chances. It was classic deflection tactics from the Brazilian who moved on to proclaim that his team could yet qualify on four points.
After that mass exodus, the fear may be that the good will of the people has already deserted Bafana Bafana but Parreira, whose praise of the support was echoed by Tabarez in thanking the respectfulness of the South African fans, believe they can still play a part in Bloemfontein next Tuesday. He said: "I believe the people will come and support us, they are proud of our team."
That may be so, but Uruguay look to have begun the dismantling of that pride.
MAN OF THE MATCH - Diego Forlan. In a continuation of his Atletico Madrid form, Forlan's first strike confirmed the momentum of the opening minutes. His second, a penalty, was converted nervelessly yet his contribution was far greater than those finishes. He prompted and probed behind Cavani and Suarez and showed he is now far more than just a predator.
SOUTH AFRICA VERDICT: Parreira may have protested that the first goal changed the match, but he was being overly protective of a team who had flopped badly. Pienaar's removal when a sub goalkeeper was needed after Khune's dismissal said it all about the supposed star man's evening as an expected creative hub. They may yet be only playing for pride against France but as the coach said, "more aggression" will be required to regain it.
URUGUAY VERDICT: Surely their best performance at a World Cup in a generation and their best win since 1954. The defence was superbly marshalled by Diegos Lugano and Godin to provide a springboard for a fast-raiding attack that had too much pace and guile for their opponents. A draw against Mexico and they are they are in the next round to provide significant danger for a team from Group B.
CITY WATCH: Pretoria provides a prettier setting than Johannesburg with the leafy boulevards and multitude of sports facilities that surround the Loftus Versfeld Stadium. As one of three given capitals of South Africa its many foreign embassies reflect its status as the administrative heart of the country. Yet there are reminders that this is part of a security-concious society. Barbed-wire lines many fences and security companies' logos are emblazoned across gates. However, like fellow rugby stadium Ellis Park, Loftus Versfeld provides a fine arena with plenty of atmosphere.