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Marquez equalizer denies South Africa opening game win

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rafael_marquez.jpgThe opening game of the first ever FIFA World Cup in Africa saw some great goals scored, some great chances missed and also some great entertainment mixed in between as Mexico and South Africa played out an engrossing 1 - 1 draw at the Soccer City Stadium in Johannesburg. Siphiwe Tshabalala gave the hosts the lead in the second half despite all of Mexico's domination in the first period and one thought that El Tri were to be punished for their wasteful display. But Mexico found a hero in veteran Rafael Marquez, who score a late equaliser to ensure that the two teams would be restricted to a share of the points, a result both sides would absorb with a heavy heart as it dents their chances of qualifying from a group that also consists of heavyweights France and the talented Uruguayans.

Legendary coach Carlos Alberto Parreira decided to go with a five man midfield with Katlego Mphela on his own up top for South Africa. One would have thought that the Brazilian would have opted for a more attacking line up to entertain the millions of supporters gunning for the host nation, but the move was quite pragmatic considering Mexico's superiority in attack. In their yellow and green attire the hosts had the versatile Steven Pienaar pulling the strings in midfield. Javier Aguirre on the other hand went out with a team filled with plenty of young attacking options. Guillermo Franco took his place up front with Giovani Dos Santos and Carlos Vela giving him support. El Tri were out there to win and win in style and one just had this intuitive feeling that South Africa's unadventurous approach would cost them dearly.

Mexico started brilliantly in the first half, keeping possession and compelling the hosts to go deeper and deeper into their own half. They had a chance as early as the first minute which saw Dos Santos' shot on goal deflected behind for a corner. El Tri not only took on 11 players on the field but also 84,000 extremely noisy fans baying for a home win. The crosses were coming in unhindered from the Mexicans especially from the right side thanks to the talented Giovani Dos Santos. Mexico were by far the more creative of the two teams and restricted the constantly oppressed South Africans to only inaccurate long balls. Guillermo Franco spurned a great opportunity, with barely 15 minutes on the clock, from a Dos Santos corner, heading the ball high into the stands despite getting ahead of his marker.

Efrain Juarez got the tournament's first booking shortly after, arguing with the Uzbekistan referee Ravshan Irmatov over a handball decision.

giovani_dos_santos.jpgDos Santos was extremely active in the opening period and he got another chance from outside the box with around 20 minutes up on the clock thanks to a swift El Tri counter attack, but his shot swirled wide.

South Africa started putting passes together later in the half and looked impressive in their movement but the final ball or the defining pass always went missing when needed the most. Kagisho Dikgacoi became the first South African player to be booked in the game, charged rightly for his loose challenge on the swift and fleet-footed Dos Santos. Franco had another good chance to give Mexico the lead in the 32nd minute after Carlos Vela incisive chip found him at an angle inside the box but the striker's effort was blocked by Itumeleng Khume who made himself as big as possible. Carlos Vela attempt at goal went wide just a couple of minutes later as he found himself in a lot of space on the right, a pass to the oncoming Dos Santos would have been a better choice.

South Africa's back four were found wanting again after Dos Santos had a good opportunity to break the deadlock but his effort was deflected for another Mexican corner. The resultant set piece saw Carlos Vela put the ball in the back of the net, but he was correctly adjudged offside as the goalkeeper was off his line and only one defender stood between Vela and the post when the ball reached him.mexico_south_africa.jpg

The hosts came alive in the final few minutes of the half, getting successive corners and almost scoring thanks to an excellent left wing cross from Tshabalala, only for it to escape inches in front of Katlego Mphela. The short burst of pressure from South Africa sent them into the interval feeling a little bit better after getting run ragged in the early exchanges. While the half clearly belonged to Mexico, they had failed to make the most of their opportunities, and with the amount of talent on display it was just a matter of time when it would come to haunt them.

South Africa made a change at half-time, with Tsepo Masilela coming on at left-back for Lucas Thwala, crucial considering the amount of joy Dos Santos was having on the right wing. The hosts started off by creating a lot of space and getting into good positions but the distribution from the middle of the park lacked quality. Mexico were punished for their profligacy in the 55th minute by South Africa via Tshabalala. A great pass to him from the middle released him on the left and the midfielder struck the ball with real venom into the net with Perez having no chance to stop it. A classic counter attack from the hosts and Parreira's tactics of absorbing pressure and then breaking forward seemed to be paying dividends. Dos Santos created a moment of magic in the 60th minute after cutting in from the right and drilling a great shot towards the near post, but Khume helped the hosts maintain the lead with a stunning save. Mexico suddenly looked vulnerable almost like a lame lion. It suddenly looked like a tale of two contrary halves.

In the 69th minute Carlos Vela was substituted and on came Mexican legend Cuauhtemoc Blanco, who the visitors hoped could instill some quality in the passing and movement of the Mexican team. South Africa had a great chance to make it 2 - 0 just minutes later when Teko Modise failed to lift the ball over goal keeper Oscar Perez thanks to good pressure from a Mexican defender. New Manchester United striker Javier Hernandez entered the fray in place of Guillermo Franco who had a rather wasteful outing.

South African hearts were broken in the 79th minute when Andres Guardardo found one of three unmarked Mexican players in the box, Rafael Marquez, from a free-kick. The veteran defender duly complied with a stellar finish powered into the back of the net and at 1 - 1 with just over 10 minutes to go, it was game on once again. Terrible positioning from the South African defenders could be credited as the cause of Mexico's equaliser, but the ball from Juarez was also of a good quality.

marquez_equalizer.jpg

The hosts responded by bringing on Bernard Parker for a disappointing Stever Pienaar in the 83rd minute. The FC Twente attacker was sent in to give the Bafana Bafana more options up front. The Soccer City stadium almost erupted in the final minute of regulation time when Mphela outpaced Rodriguez to a hopeful long ball, but his finish hit the post despite beating a hapless Perez in goal. The match ended 1 - 1, a fair reflection on the performance of the two sides.

The draw makes qualification from this tough group an exceptionally difficult task for either Mexico or South Africa. They will both undoubtedly keep a close eye on proceedings to follow when Uruguay and France take the field soon for Game 2. South Africa take on Uruguay next on Wednesday the 16th, and Mexico have the benefit of an extra day to see how that game pans out when they tackle France on Thursday. The hosts are likely to be considerably more relaxed having got this huge first game out of the way and will surely give the South Americans a good work out, while the Mexicans will need to review their personnel at both ends of the pitch if they are to stand toe-to-toe with the French.

Teams:

South Africa: - Khune, Mokoena, Thwala (Masilela 45'), Khumalo, Gaxa, Pienaar (Parker 83'), Dikgacoi, Tshabalala, Modise, Letsholonyane, Mphela

Mexico: - Perez, Marquez, Rodriguez, Salcido, Aguilar (Guardado 56'), Juarez, Osorio, Torrado, Dos Santos, Franco (Hernandez 73'), Vela (Blanco 69')

South Africa 1 - 1 Mexico

Tshabalala (South Africa) 55th
R. Marquez (Mexico) 79th

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