South Africa 0, Uruguay 3: Sometimes, you just despair
Aren’t you glad you don’t have to watch South American football every week? The dives, the play-acting, the constant niggle. And oh, the pain they go through after every sliding tackle as they roll and roll.
Uruguay pulled out all their old Latin skills last night – though a masterful Diego Forlan can take an untainted bow. But in truth the 16th best side in the world were far from impressive as they engineered a route past South Africa, the lowest ranked hosts in the history of the World Cup.
From a distance it may look different. Uruguay dominated, stroked the ball about, keeping possession for long periods. Then came what looked like the first authentic screamer of the tournament from outside the box. Diego Forlan’s effort appeared perfect with the ultra-light Jabulani ball, which dipped for the first time in the tournament, flying in just under the bar.
But examine it closely and Forlan’s 24th-minute rasper took a touch off the neck of Portsmouth’s Aaron Mokoena, winning his 102nd cap for Bafana Bafana last night. That’s why what looked a masterful strike from Forlan actually owed a lot to appearances.
And that’s what this 3-0 victory amounted to. Might look good to fans from that part of the world, to television commentators distracted by the vuvuzela but sheez, if Luiz Suarez went down with one more injury in a land without a National Health Scheme, his insurers may have fled the country.
All that became irrelevant when, after 76 frustrating minutes, home goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune – less than confident in front of 60,000 at an officially freezing Loftus Versfeld last night – was sent off.
Not because he committed an awful foul but because Luiz Suarez – yes, him again – produced a swan dive of such epic proportions, Swiss referee Massimo Busacca would have been insensitive not to offer his sympathies and a card. After all, Suarez had gone down at least twice before demanding a spot kick. And there was slight contact.
But the eagle-eyed television cameras will tell you Suarez was off-side anyway. Not that it mattered.
So, Khune sent off muttering, penalty, and Monieb Josephs on for his first touch of the World Cup. Up stepped Forlan, whose dad Pablo played in the 1966 World Cup, and stuck it into the top corner.
Pereira added another to complete a night of utter misery at a stadium more used to watching the charging Blue Bulls win rugby games.
For once, the vuvuzelas were silenced. Anger, disappointed, despair for the Rainbow Nation, who had enjoyed their World Cup journey so much in the build-up to this game. Then they came up against the cynical reality of world football at the top level.
Just ask Costa Rica, the CONCACAF nation they beat in the play-offs as CONMEBOL’s fifth-best side. I wasn’t there, but I know that still rankles with those who were. Google it.
The solution? I can only suggest a course in drama for a baffled Bafana Bafana. Or law. And perhaps urge Brazilian Carlos Alberto Parreira to push men forward a little more when his side are winning ball in the midfield. Though he won the World Cup in 1994, I guess he knew what he was doing.
Thus ended South Africa’s 14-match unbeaten run, extending back to when Parreira resumed his duties last November. The longest unbeaten run in football, only Holland (20) and Portugal (17) can offer better here.
What remains? France, for South Africa, in an even chillier Bloemfontein. Uruguay finish against Mexico. I fear the hosts, for the first time in the history of the World Cup, will fail to reach the knock-out stages. They were very poor last night.
On the night, they were too lightweight, too excited – particularly Siphiwe Tshabalala, who scored that screamer in the opening game against Soccer City and let it go to his head.
Captain Mokoena said: "That was unacceptable. Totally unacceptable. We lost our belief, stopped playing. We still have France to play. We have to bounce back."
The great disappointment? Everton’s player of the year Steven Pienaar. The great engine he showed us in the Premier League last winter looked like it needed oil, the lung-bursting runs at altitude just weren’t there.