Anatomy of a Disappointmentby Dave Durbach / 17.06.2010
This was the game a nation had been pinning its hopes on ever since the draw was announced. Friday’s showing against Mexico would’ve only boosted expectations that Uruguay was the team Bafana needed to beat if they were to make it to the second round.
But from the starting whistle, it was a very different Bafana team who took the field. Joel Santana, at the very least, would’ve been proud. Tepid wait-and-see football lacking in all urgency – no one seemed willing to run off the ball. They were content to knock it around the midfield a few times before passing the ball back to Khune. Aided by some contentious ref calls early on, the crowd was soon dulled into a shocked stupor, frustrated moans and exasperated curses replacing the emphatic cry of the vuvuzela.
It went from bad to worse in the 24th minute, when a goal materlised out of thin air, thanks to dangerman Diego Forlan, whose long-range shot took a deflection off the shoulder of a cowering Mokoena, only to see it loop up cruelly over a frozen Khune and into the net.
Bafana had their fair share of chances. Soon after Forlan’s goal, Katlego Mphela made a surging run around the Uruguyan defence, before sending a lethargic cross straight into a relieved defender. Ten minutes later, he squandered a half chance off the head. On Friday he failed in a one-on-one with the Mexican keeper, spraying the ball wide to prevent an historic and deserved victory. At the rate he’s going, “Killer” has lived up to his name, by killing Bafana’s chances of going anywhere. For all the song and dance made about Parreira’s decision to omit Benni McCarthy from his squad, Mphela is the same as Benni – big on talk but impossible to rely on for goals when it matters.
Though possession was split 50-50 throughout the game, when Bafana had the ball, they were usually on the back foot. They used almost every opportunity to give it away – consistently outmuscled on the ball by the Uruguayans, led by defender Diego Lugano; the rest of the time donating possession through sloppy passes.
Aside from some rare touches early on from Siphiwe Tshabalala, the entire team looked out of their depth. Steven Pienaar was ineffective, never given space by the Uruguayans. Teko Modise fared even worse. At one stage he attempted to backheel a pass, but managed to miss the ball completely and give away possession. Tsamaya! The team’s other midfield playmaker Reneilwe Letsholonyane was also invisible, and was replaced by an equally impotent Surprise Moriri in the second, Parriera’s only tactical substitution.
While still 1-nil down, there remained a glimmer of hope. That dream turned sour in the 79th minute, when Swiss ref Massimo Busacca failed to call an obvious offside from Uruguay and instead handed Khune a red card for making a desparate tackle to prevent a bogus goal. Slimkat Josephs took his place, and while making a valiant attempt to stop Diego Forlan’s shot, came a few centeimetres short. A deafening silence fell on Loftus and the bemused crowd started filing out with over 10 minutes still on the clock. The only thing they missed was Uruguay’s third goal.
Despite the resounding loss, coach and players remained philosophical, doing their best to put on a brave face in from of the international media. Skipper Aaron Mokoena was full of praise for the Uruguayans. “We’ve got our own style, but they stopped us playing the way we usually play. They really played that tight marking, and that’s what they did from the first minute. They made sure that we don’t build from the back, our midfielders don’t get the space to play. They’ve done their homework.”
Coach Carlos Alberto Parreira put the result down to his team’s lack of experience, and was uncharacteristically blunt about the referee. “Myself and everybody said it was the worst referee in this competition so far. He looked very unfair from the very beginning, the way he behaved against our team. And the other problem is, he left the ground smiling! Anyhow, it’s done now. I hope he will not behave any more like this in any game. He does not deserve to be here.”
“I think the key moment for us was the penalty and the red card,” he continued, “because it was in the 29th minute of the second half, we were controlling the game.” When the decision came, he was about to bring on a new striker in Siyabonga Nomvete, who could’ve made all the difference.
“I am disappointed. But there’s nothing I can do. It’s the referee’s decision.” said a visibly distraught Itumeleng Khune afterwards. “The game was too quick for me to judge whether the guy was offside or not, but my job was to stop him from scoring. After it happened, the guys came to me and said sorry. But I think I owe them an apology as well, and to the rest of South Africa. It wasn’t deliberate, but I think I owe everybody an apology. They deserve an apology, because they’ve been there for us as a team. So for something to happen like that, it wasn’t nice for anyone.”
“Khune didn’t have a chance,” sympathized Mphela. “He had to tackle him. If not, he was gonna score the goal.” With his place in the starting line-up now in question, Mphela was rightfully disappointed with his own performance. “I’m a striker, I’ll never be satisfied if I don’t score a goal, or if I don’t create chances. I’m alone up front, they played with five defenders, and they’re organized. Everyone is down now, but we’ve been in these situations before. So we have to pick ourselves up to beat France.”
South Africa now turn their attention to today’s game between France and Mexico. If the game ends in another draw, Bafana could still make it through to the next round if they beat France next week.
Substitute keeper Moeneeb “Slimkat” Josephs had this to say: “Unfortunately tonight, we weren’t in the game. That’s football. We just weren’t in the game today. And hopefully we’re looking forward to the France game – that’s the one we need to pull out of the bag. Whatever happens tomorrow happens. We have to worry about the France game. We have to get a good result there. That’s the game for us, cos its gonna go down to the wire in this group. We all drew at the beginning, so it’s gonna go down to the last game.”
All images © Dave Durbach.