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Not much hope left for the hosts

Thursday, June 17, 2010
Jun 17

Posted by Jeff Carlisle

PRETORIA, South Africa -- For weeks, coaches, players, and FIFA officials had been contemplating how to mute the vuvuzelas. On Wednesday at Loftus Versfeld Stadium, the perfect recipe was discovered: two parts Diego Forlan, and one part the toothless attack of South Africa.

The Uruguayan forward scored two goals on the night, helping La Celeste trounce Bafana Bafana 3-0. And it must be said that the result was never in doubt once Forlan's deflected, looping effort opened the scoring in the 24th minute.

"[Forlan] is a player who can make a difference, and he made a difference on that first goal," said South Africa coach Carlos Alberto Parreira.

From there, every attack from the home side crashed against the impervious rocks that were central defenders Diego Lugano and Diego Godin, as well as midfielders Diego Perez and Egidio Arevalo. Bafana Bafana midfielder Steven Pienaar was blanketed, and no other South African attacker provided the speed of legs or the speed of thought needed to unlock Uruguay's well-organized defense.

"We didn't expect an easy game; we knew South Africa is a tough opponent," Lugano said through a translator. "But we knew that if we played hard we could look for our result, and we were able to obtain it."

This had the effect of subduing what had been a raucous yellow-clad crowd at the start of the match. By game's end, the almost mournful blasts of the vuvuzelas had become less frequent, with the drumming of Uruguay's fans clearly audible. And the empty blue seats nearly outnumbered those fans masochistic enough to stay to the end.

Clearly, the sight of Bafana Bafana putting one foot in its World Cup grave was too much for some, because there doesn't look to be a way back for this team. For all the criticism that has been leveled at France, South Africa looks completely incapable of testing such an experienced team and extracting a win in its group finale.

Not surprisingly, Parreira insisted that "the competition is not yet finished," and that Bafana Bafana "will have to be more aggressive" against France. But then after praising Uruguay's more experienced players, the press conference devolved into farce. Parreira railed at referee Massimo Busacca, who with just minutes remaining ejected South Africa goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune after he upended Uruguayan forward Luis Suarez inside the box. That Forlan converted the resulting penalty and Uruguay tacked on a third through Alvaro Pereira only raised Parreira's ire further.

"We are really annoyed and [upset] with the performance of the referee," Parreira said. "[Busacca] was the worst referee in the competition so far. He was very unfair from the very beginning, the way he behaved against our team."

Parreira also had the temerity to suggest that without Forlan's opener, "the game would have been different," ignoring Uruguay's more fluid play in all phases.

By the end, however, Parreira had returned to his senses, stating that "we lost a game we would like to have drawn." Such is the plea of a coach who knows his team has been badly outplayed. The cracks that appeared in South Africa's opener against Mexico became large gaps against Uruguay, and now Bafana Bafana are in danger of achieving what no home side has done before: namely, failing to reach the knockout stages.

This is a shame, of course, not only for tournament organizers, but South Africa's fans as well. One can only hope that the spirit they have shown so far in this tournament won't be hushed for too long.

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