South Africa 1-1 Mexico
France 0-0 Uruguay
After a wonderful celebratory concert in Soweto on the eve of the Tournament, a surreal experience (crazy to watch African pop stars performing on US television on a Thursday afternoon on ESPN2) to be sure, The World Cup began on Friday on a tragic note; During the pre-match introductions for the Mexico vs South Africa match, South African President Joseph Zuma announced that the great former President of the nation, Nelson Mandela, would be unable to attend the opening match due to “a tragedy in the family”; Mandela’s 13-year old great-granddaughter Zenani Mandela had attended the kick-off concert the night before and tragically passed away in a car accident after the event. Mandela’s absence was profound; the 91 year old has been having health issues for a while now, but to not have him at this proud moment for the nation (and under these circumstances) was a real loss. Madiba was missed and it was a sad way for the South African nation to begin what otherwise has been a pure and glorious celebration of football. Even sitting in my home this morning, stewing my envy as I watched the fans pour into Johannesburg’s Soccer City, it was obvious to see the excitement and passion that has swept South Africa; so far, so very very good.
On the pitch, however, the day saw a decent match and a rather challenging tactical battle and while passions were running high, neither proved a classic for the neutral fan. First up were the hosts who immediately went on the back foot against a Mexcian side determined to attack. Using the right wing, Paul Aguilar had the run of the place for Mexico, delivering dangerous balls into the box. Mexico even put the ball into the back of the net through Carlos Vela, only to have Vela ruled offsides when the South African keeper Itumeleng Khune rushed off his line and flapped at the ball, just pushing Vela offside by half a yard as the ball was delivered. It wasn’t until the second half that South Africa was able to collect themselves and start an effective counter-attack; when Siphiwe Tshabalala received a beautiful through ball at his feet and made absolutely no mistake…
South Africa 1-0 Mexico (Siphiwe Tshabalala)
Appropriate that a South African player had the honor of the first goal of the Tournament, and what a beautiful, powerful strike it was. Mexico struggled to threaten, with South Africa pushing a ball just wide of the post on a dangerous counter, until finally Rafa Marquez capitalized on South African Captain Aaron Mokoena’s inability to execute the offside trap, and scored a can’t miss equalizer…
South Africa 1-1 Mexico (Rafael Marquez)
South Africa should have taken all three points at the death when Khune blasted a massive goal kick downfield and caught striker Katlego Mphela in stride just a few yards from the goal, but he pushed his effort off the outside of the post; a crucial miss that may come back to haunt the Bafana Bafana as the Tournament wears on.
Still, both nations must fancy their chances in Group A after watching a chemistry-free France team fail to break down a negative, counter-attacking Uruguay in the 0-0 draw that followed. I already talked about manager Raymond Domenech’s inability to get this team together, but if ever I saw a team that looked more like eleven parts without a sum, it was France today; disjointed, out of ideas, players taking the ball off of one another for no reason, poor communication and no cohesion, France were an absolute mess. Domenech chose Sidney Govou to start on the right wing instead of partnering strikers Nicolas Anelka (who started) and Thierry Henry (who did not), and that decision proved a mistake almost immediately as Govou received a pass some three feet from goal and failed to turn the ball into the net. Yohann Gourcuff put in a dangerous free kick that was saved brilliantly by Uruguay’s Fernando Muslera, and that, a Diego Forlan strike that was well saved (and another that he blasted wide of the post that should have been on target) aside, was about it. There was a nasty tackle from Uruguayan substitute Nicolás Lodeiro, which drew the player a second yellow and subsequent red after only 18 minutes on the pitch; it provided the game with ten minutes of 10 on 11 football upon which France failed to capitalize. Uruguay have to be thrilled with the result; they put eight players behind the ball and tried to nick a goal on the counter, while France have to be looking in the mirror asking where it all went wrong. You play a game that sour? No photos or YouTube clips for you.
* Is it me, or after Zhang Yimou’s unfuckingbelieveable Opening Ceremonies at the Beijing Olympics, do all sporting event “ceremonies” seem a little low rent now? Nothing is going to top that, I guess, so why bother trying? I mean… R. Kelly in a chain mail hood? Hmmm…
How Far Has The World Cup Anthem Fallen? R. Kelly “Lip-Synchs” While Rocking The Chain Mail Hood
* There was a moment during the Kick-Off Concert when I looked at the multiracial Black Eyed Peas performing onstage in Soweto and I felt a little teary eyed. It was clearly a reminder of my childhood, when Apartheid was the order of the day and my own government in the USA and so many other nations sat on their hands, allowing corporate participation in with that oppressive, murderous regime. I remember learning about Nelson Mandela as a political prisoner and now he is the founding father of a free nation. It just came flooding back to me; Reagan’s indifference to the Apartheid regime, the anti-apartheid movement at The University of Michigan when I was a freshman in college, etc. But most of all? I was reminded of the campaign by US musicians to boycott Sun City, famously documented in the all-star music video…
I Ain’t Gonna Play Sun City
…and I thought “Holy shit, the good guys won.” It was comforting and moving all at once; but at the same time, I felt like crying while watching The Black Eyed Peas which, what the fuck? Dissonance all the way…
The Black Eyed Peas In Soweto
Up Next: Day 2