Friday, June 11, 2010

"My mind is like an angry swarm of bees..."

South Africa 1 Mexico 1
Well, that was a bit of a buzz. Which almost had a sting in the tail.
Even Sepp Blatter, football’s most powerful man, looked and sounded a little taken aback by the pure power and intensity of Africa’s long-awaited World Cup welcome, as he forgivably gifted himself a little pre-match speech on the pitch.
And just when the relentless intensity inside the Soccer City ‘cooking pot’ bowl had reached the very top of its range, somehow the crowd - that feverish swarm of vuvuzelas - could send the volume surging still higher to a Spinal Tap-style level eleven.
Siphiwe Tshabalala’s sweetly-lashed opener should guarantee the self-proclaimed YouTube addict a hefty segment of the site to himself.
He spoke before the match about spending hours following ‘best free-kick’ links, to hone his own set-piece technique, but today’s open-play piledriver could provide a few lessons of its own.
And not just in the finish – Fulham’s Kagisho Dikgacoi need feel no urge to change his name, after a clever and committed second-half display and the cute through-ball putting Tshabalala on a clear path into the history books.
Patches of empty seats suggested the announcement of a capacity 84,900 crowd might have been a little less accurate than Tshabalala’s aim.

Yet there could have been twice as many crammed inside here, judging by the racket this bouncing, beaming crowd created – expressing somehow both a nervous make-the-most-of-the-moment disbelief and a satisfied this-is-how-it-should-be self-assurance.
While there was little let-up in terms of sound from the fans, the home players’ own confidence came and went.
A rocky, sloppy start, as the Mexicans threatened to canter away with it, was followed by some modestly intricate passing moves as the first half scampered by – especially as Pienaar deserted his right-wing station as if worried he might miss out on some fun.
His team’s left flank certainly needed some bolstering, with Giovani dos Santos sparkling and yet often found himself usefully overlapped by his own right wing-back, Paul Aguilar.
Yet early indications that Aguilar and central midfield organiser Gerardo Torrado would run the match just the way they wanted gradually receded.
South Africa not only hung on until half-time – helped no little by goalkeeper Ike Khune and a dutifully-flagging linesman – but could have nodded themselves into the lead, had lumbering frontman Katlego Mphela.
Did Mexico really need to persevere with three men in central – if elastic – defence when faced by a harmless Mphela and, tucked just behind, a miscuing Teko Modise?
At least the belated arrival, in the second half, of Andres Guardado gave them both impetus and deadly crossing down the wing, even if by that point South Africa had taken the lead, missed a sitter (Modise) and been denied a perfectly-arguable penalty.
Rafael Marquez, curbing his instincts to roam like an old-fashioned centre-half for much of the game, did turn up in the right spot at the right time to swipe an equaliser.
South Africa had ten men in the box as Guardado’s crucial cross swept over, though captain Aaron Mokoena could feel aggrieved to find himself abandoned and left to cover up to four attacking Mexicans.
Inevitably, one of them ended up hitting the net, suggesting home coach Carlos Parreira – a zonal marking devotee – has at least a little more fine-tuning to do.
But the fans sounded a fairly forgiving bunch, the only moment of quickfire quiet coming in the few seconds after an anti-climactic – and inaudible – final whistle.
The pipes were soon parping again – surely lips should be chapped, lungs running out of puff? – as the makarapa-helmeted heads bobbed back down the stairs and ramps, out on to the streets, and into the night.

For the second World Cup in a row, an opening game has proved a refreshing and entertaining sight – though even that bubbly Allianz Arena crammed with even bubblier Bavarians never felt nor sounded quite like this.

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