Hosts South Africa draw with Mexico in World Cup opener (Lead)

June 11th, 2010 - 11:39 pm ICT by IANS  

Arsenal Johannesburg, June 11 (DPA) Hosts South Africa earned a precious 1-1 draw against Mexico in the opening match of the 2010 World Cup, the first to take place on African soil.
In front of a near-capacity 84,500 crowd and incessant blowing of the vuvuzelas horns, man-of-the-man Siphiwe Tshabalala put the Bafana Bafana in front with a stunning 55th minute strike. But Mexico, whose superiority in the FIFA rankings transpired for much of the game, clinched the equalizer with a short-range effort from Rafael Marquez in the 79th.

“It was a huge gift for me to score the goal in such a huge game,” said Tshabalala.

“You don’t experience something like this every week. The atmosphere was amazing and it was a huge honour for us to play in a game like this,” the midfielder said.

Before the game, the historic tournament was officially declared open by the country’s president, Jacob Zuma.

Possibly agitated by the momentousness of the event, South Africa got off to a shaky start and risked succumbing just two minutes into the game: What looked like an innocuous cross from the right was mishandled by goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune, who sent the ball into the path of Giovani Dos Santos. Fortunately for the men in yellow and

green, the forward’s short-range shot met a deflection and ended wide.

With the Latin Americans commanding possession of the ball, the Bafana Bafana’s first chance only came in the 17th minute in the form of a free kick. But Steven Pienaar failed to make the ball dip and sent it high over the crossbar.

A minute later, Mexico’s Efrain Juarez became the tournament’s first player to be booked for foolishly handling the ball at midfield.

Mexico continued to dominate possession during the first half and should have gone in front before the break. But on at least two occasions they were denied by great saves from Khune, who was thus able to redeem himself for his earlier mistake.

There was also time for controversy, when a tap-in goal from Carlos Vela was disallowed in the 37th. However, slow-motion footage later showed that referee Ravshan Irmatov and his linesman had made an entirely correct decision, since the Arsenal forward was slightly in front of the goalkeeper, leaving only one South African player

between him and the goal line.

South Africa’s best chance of scoring before the break came towards the end of the first half, but Katlego Mphela failed to head in an inviting cross from the left.

South Africa’s experienced Brazilian coach, Carlos Alberto Parreira, substituted defender Lucas Thwala with another defender, Tsepo Masilela during the break, but it was Tshabalala, a midfielder, who pulled off the greatest surprise.

With 10 minutes into the second half, the Kaizer Chiefs player completed a great run with a stunningly unstoppable left-footer to put the hosts in front and send their fans into ecstasy.

Badly bruised, the Mexicans poured forward, but Dos Santos was again denied by the opposing goalkeeper.

And the visitors were lucky not to have been punished by a rapid counterattack in the 66th, when an unmarked Teko Modise sent what should have been the easiest of tap-ins wide.

Reward for the Mexicans came in the 79th, when Marquez was left unmarked and was able to pick up a perfect cross and fire in the equalizer from close range.

South Africa’s Katlego Mphela could have made history in the final minute of regular time, but his sidefooted finish bounced back off the foot of the post.

The two sides were expected to turn their sights on the other Group A match of the day between France and Uruguay.

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