Tuesday, June 22, 2010
Collusion, what collusion?
Andrew Warshaw, Royal Bafokeng Stadium
It wasn't always thrill-a-minute stuff and the back-slapping and handshakes from both sets of players at the final whistle told their own story.
• Forlan hails group winners
But any suggestions of deal-striking between Mexico and Uruguay evaporated in the late afternoon sun when the two Latin foes played the game in the right spirit before, as expected, booking their respective places in the second round of the World Cup.
Luis Suarez's bullet header late in the first-half was enough to settle an encounter that had enough commitment and effort to sweep away all those conspiracy theories that had preceded this nail-biting climax to Group A.
No fixture in this World Cup had such short odds on a tame and tepid draw, rekindling memories of 28 years ago and that sordid encounter between Germany and Austria in Vigo which ensured their safe passage to the next round at the expense of Algeria and Chile.
The fiasco prompted waves of protests and although the result was allowed to stand, the tawdry episode resulted in a change of rules, with the final series of group games being played simultaneously to avoid any possible repeat.
If FIFA had a quiet word in the ears of the Mexican and Uruguayan officials, they needn't have bothered, both teams may have needed only a draw or a narrow defeat to advance but they were keen to avoid a potential tie with Argentina and the tackles flew in. At one point Diego Perez was caught by a stray Mexican arm with blood trickling down his face - and although clearcut chances dried up late on, there was always plenty of attacking intent.
The only goal, typically, came from the man who couldn't stop scoring for Ajax last season, Suarez outwitting his marker to find time and space to bury a header two minutes before the interval.
With South Africa two up against France in Bloemfontein, the Mexicans, who had hit the bar with their best chance of the first half, knew they would be in danger of elimination if they conceded again. They made three attack-minded substitutions but almost fell further behind when Diego Lugano's header was brilliantly saved by Oscar Perez.
Only when they couldn't get back in the game did they make sure of second place by slowing the game down, even if that meant a likely daunting confrontation with Diego Maradona's men - a repeat of four years ago at the same stage when the Argentines won 2-1 in extra-time in arguably the most technically eye-catching game of the tournament.
Uruguay, winners of the first ever World Cup in 1930 and again in 1950 but never able to reproduce such achievements in the modern era, have yet to concede a goal in South Africa. Coach Oscar Tabaraz said he had no idea how far they could go and was quick to point out that there had been no semblance of collusion.
"We are living a dream but will be difficult opposition for anyone," said Tabarez whose country had beaten Mexico only three times previously in 17 meetings and had squeezed into these finals via a playoff with Costa Rica. "For all these boys, it's a dream come true to be here. We decided we were going to enjoy ourselves at this World Cup. I said before that previous comments (about collusion) were not to my liking. Everybody showed a good sporting spirit even if in the minds of some people, it was not necessary to play to win."
Javier Aguirre, his opposite number, admitted his team were afraid of losing but stressed they didn't set out to play that way. "FIFA can rest assured we wanted to win, were not striving for a draw," he said. "We were loyal to our style. Did we know South Africa were winning 2-0 at half-time? No, no, no. We were only concentrating on our game and our scoreline. If it's Argentina we play now, so be it. It's a nice possibility to get even with what happened four years ago."