Happy to swallow my prediction (0-1 to Mexico) along with the boerewors roll I got at Madiba’s, Brooklyn’s South African watering hole where the scene vaguely recalled that vignette in Joseph O’Neill’s fabulous New York praise poem, Netherland:
It was on Coney Island Avenue, on a subsequent occasion, that Chuck and I came upon a bunch of South African Jews, in full sectarian regalia, watching televised cricket with a couple of Rastafarians in the front office of a Pakistani-run lumberyard.
Truth be told, though, while a couple of strokes of bad luck may have denied Bafana Bafana an epic victory at the death, we were lucky to come away with a draw against a superior side. Mexico bossed the game for long spells, rarely surrendering possession, and the outstanding Geovanni Dos Santos wrought havoc down Mexico’s right flank — so much so, that South Africa’s coach Carlos Alberto Parreira did the wise thing and substituted left back Lucas Thwala for the more authoritative Tshepo Masilela.
Mexico failed to convert their dominance into goals, however, thrice denied by the brilliant Itumeleng Khune in South Africa’s goal. Two great saves and a fiendishly clever (well, okay, devilishly lucky) offside trap that saw Mexico’s first half goal from a corner disallowed because Khune had ventured so far off his line as to play the Mexicans offside. Two or three more saves earned him, in my book, South Africa’s man-of-the-match award.
Despite Mexico’s dominance of possession, the South Africans began to get their counterattacking game together, with both Modise and Letsholonyane able to carve open the Mexican defense with raking passes between the fullback and centerback. One such pass, from Modise, saw Siphiwe Tshabala hit a screamer into the top right stanchion that will surely rate as one of the goals of the tournament. A couple of others, however, were wasted by Mphela and Modise himself, underscoring South Africa’s limited finishing ability — a problem that, to Bafana’s relief, was replicated on the Mexican side.
Belief surged through the South Africans after Tshabalala’s goal, and for a ten minute spell Mexico was on the back foot. But they soon restored the pattern of the game and went looking for the equalizer, which eventually came after some poor positional defending allowed Rafa Marquez to give Khune no chance at the far post.
South Africans everywhere groaned in agony as Mphela, when clean through, saw the ball skid off his shin and onto a post with the Mexican keeper beaten, but a win for Bafana would not have reflected the pattern of the game. Plenty of positives for the home side, although the Mexicans will believe they lost the opportunity to sew up the three points in the first half.
Man of the Match: Geovanni Dos Santos. The Spurs winger on loan at Galatasary will have burnished his credentials for the legions of Premiership and La Liga scouts on hand.
What We Learn from the Match: Those concerns about the Adidas Jabulani ball may be valid. It’s clearly lighter and more elastic, and while the pre-tournament complaints have come mostly from goalkeepers who struggle to read its flight when its struck full force with the laces, what became obvious in this game was the problem of its bounce: Five or six times, a long diagonal ball played to a man on the wing in a dangerous position bounced harmlessly over his head and into touch where a regular ball might have bounced to chest height. Anyone who’s played a pickup game in Joburg knows the ground is harder there and there’s more bounce, but that shouldn’t be a problem on custom-laid turf. There’s just to much boing-boing in that damn ball!