Friday, June 11, 2010
Game 1: South Africa vs Mexico
Mexico clearly dominated throughout most of this game, as demonstrated by having sixty-four percent of the possession; however, that does not mean it was an easy game for them. During the first half everything went Mexico's way. They had fluid passing, they made good runs, defense was solid, it seemed they were doing everything right. On the other-hand, South Africa could produce very little, only really having three instances of attack in the whole forty-five minutes, but none being really impressive.
It all almost went downhill for Bafana Bafana, when in the thirty-second minute Franco got onto the end of the ball, but was denied by the goalkeeper Muneh who showed excellent reflexes to deny the Mexican striker. Then in the thirty-seventh minute, Vela got onto the end of a cross, that took a reflection, to score... Only for it to be called back by the side-line official. Upon further review of the replay, it became clear he was offsides due to the result of the flick, and the mistake from the SA goalkeeper who came too far off of his line, allowing South Africa to catch a lucky break.
Going into halftime Bafana Bafana had a lot of work to do. They were not able to make any offensive pushes, and their defense was very shaky, which would unfortunately last for the rest of the game. Mexico, in contrast, seemed to be doing everything right, except score. Vela had not been performing well, so it seemed only like a matter of time until he was substituted off unless he improved.
Trust Carlos Alberto Parreira to fix a lot of these issues, as from the moment of the second half kickoff you could tell South Africa had vastly improved. Finally starting to get into Mexico's defensive half they were beginning to show promise. Then in the fifty-fifth minute the stadium would explode as Tshabulala scores off a breakaway, driving a shot as far top-left corner as one could, scraping both post and crossbar before hitting the net, I would not be surprised if that goal ends up being one of the top ten for the entire tournament, absolutely beautiful.
Mexico was definitely caught off guard and started to become rather flat footed. In the sixtieth minute Dos Santos, trying to inspire his team, makes a beautiful shot, near upper-right corner that was only stopped by a heroic save from Muneh. Mexico was slowly starting to pick up the pace.
In the sixty-ninth minute Vela finally came off, having performed less than satisfactory, to bring on the veteran Blanco (more on that later). Then in the seventy-fourth minute Franco gave way to Javier Hernandez. The coach was really trying to get some fresh attacking legs on the field, desperately trying to find an equalizer, which they would find in the seventy-ninth minute when a short corner was given to Guardado, who quickly snapped in a cross finding Rafa Marquez on the back post. Settling the ball, he was able to calmly slot it in between the keeper and post, giving Mexico the much desired goal to pull out a draw.
Final Score: South Africa 1 - 1 Mexico.
Things they did right, and things to improve on:
South Africa may have underperformed in the first half, but they came out firing on all cylinders during the second. Tshabulala was an absolute nightmare for the Mexican defense, so he will need to keep up this form. The midfield also showed some improvement, beginning able to finally put pressure on Mexico's possession based style. However, the defense was very shaky all game, constantly letting the Mexican attackers have their way. If it hadn't been for the excellence of Muneh between the posts, this game easily could have been three to one. Pienaar, the golden boy of Bafana Bafana was really quiet throughout most of the game, until his eventual substitution. He will need to drastically improve in order for South Africa to go further in this tournament. The offense also needs to produce some more shots, as the entire team only had two chances all game, the first being a goal, and the second hitting the post, this will not be acceptable at later stages.
Mexico did most things really well except, as noted earlier, score. It may be me, but I don't see the need for Blanco in the squad. I understand he is the talisman and local hero of the nation, but he was clearly showing his age in this game. He was simply to slow, unable to keep up with the run of play, and being rather unspectacular when on the ball, seeming to have lost his first touch. On the other hand, Dos Santos was fantastic, a real workhorse. He was running all the around the field, hungry for the ball, taking shots and putting together some good passes, the kid seems to have a bright future ahead of him.
In the end I think this was probably the correct score for the game. South Africa showed some real improvement while Mexico did not, and that improvement will serve Bafana Bafana well in their games to come.