Wednesday, June 16, 2010

"The South will rise again...?"

Bye bye, The Boys The Boys.
A national day of both celebration and sadness, prompted by the most serious of circumstances, ended with shades of the same emotions applied to something rather more frivolous.
That is, South Africa’s ‘Youth Day’ – remembering those hundreds killed combating apartheid, in the June 1976 Soweto uprisings – couldn’t quite conclude with some footballing comfort last night.
The Bafana Bafana’s cruelly-emphatic 3-0 defeat to Uruguay surely makes it almost impossible to avoid becoming the first hosts knocked out in a World Cup first round.
The four Group A teams could yet finish on four points apiece, yet it looks unlikely – especially with South Africa’s best two tournament performers now suspended from their closing match against France.
Katlego Dikcagoi, as last Friday against Mexico, was neat and precise tonight in holding midfield – up until he needlessly clattered right through Luis Suarez on the halfway line, earning himself a second yellow of the competition.
Then, with 14 minutes to go, goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune was sadly but fairly sent off – only the ‘keeper to receive a World Cup red card – though it took another four minutes for his replacement to arrive.
Khune’s offence was slicing down Suarez as the striker shaped to sidestep and tap the ball into an empty net, after a Diego Forlan pass trickled across the box entirely untroubled by South African defenders.
That one was certainly a penalty, even if other moments suggested Suarez – after a past season or so or more approving reviews – still hasn’t quite erased all gamesmanship from his game.
Forlan had already been the hero both for visiting fans – and those who hate the horns – by suddenly silencing the vuvuzelas, for a few moments anyway, with an opening goal almost out of nowhere.
Initially it appeared his 24th-minute strike from outside the box had dipped devilishly in the air of its own accord – or, at least, because of arbitrary Jabulani tendencies.
In fact, it had caught a deflection I think we’re obliged to describe as ‘wicked’, carrying the ball on a whistling swivel through the breeze while all at once sucking all the wind from South Africa’s sails.
Until then, the home team had been marginally the more measured, even if both teams struggled to hold on to possession – and South Africa were let down again by anonymity and sloppiness going forward from both Steven Pienaar and Teko Modise.
As against France, poacher-turned-playmaker Forlan was drifting very deep into midfield, but the inclusion of Edinson Cavani as a third forward meant Suarez had more support up-front – without Uruguay much missing the dropped Fernandez in midfield.
Forlan’s vision and Suarez’s cunning meant Uruguay always looked the more likely to strike, especially once South Africa’s lonely forward Katlego Mphela had squirmed a header wide from about, ooh, two yards from goal.
Even the hitherto-hapless Alvaro Pereira tucked in an even closer-range chance, at the other end of the pitch with just about the last kick of the game.
But even then, the vuvuzelas were still being sounded loud and – well, about as clear as a vuvuzela can sound.
But disappointment and dismay are bound to be spreading, in a nation which had raised its hopes slightly higher than might be advised.
Is there someone who can now play a vuvuzela like a sad trombone?

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