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FIFA World Cup: France end campaign on a whimper; lose 2-1 to hosts South Africa

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ribery_pienaar.jpgFrance were condemned to an embarrassing 2-1 defeat by hosts South Africa in what turned out to be the final fixture for both side in the 2010 FIFA World Cup. The French were no different than in the earlier rounds and were insipid and listless in their outing today. The ‘in house' struggle in the French camp seemed to have influenced Raymond Domenech greatly as he made wholesale changes to the team - with captain Patrice Evra out of the side as well.

South Africa on the other hand, started with an attacking formation and reaped the rewards as they got the breakthrough as early as the 20th minute when defender Bongani Khumalo headed the ball in from a corner. The French were in for a further set back when Yoann Gourcuff got sent off for unintentionally elbowing an opponent while rising for a header. A second goal in the 37th minute by Katlego Mphela raised hopes of a fairytale entry of the hosts in the last 16. However, the second half sprang no more surprises as even though France got a goal back, Bafana Bafana won ended their campaign at the FIFA World Cup with a win. France on the other hand, were relegated to the last spot in the Group A as they ended the Raymond Domenech-era in inglorious fashion.

France and South Africa clashed today at the Free State Stadium in Bloemfontein with their last 16 qualification hopes clinging to a thread. Some pathetic displays on and off the field had left the two sides on the brink of elimination and today promised to be no different. A draw between Uruguay and Mexico - in the other Group A game being played simultaneously at Rustenburg - would have rendered this match to be of merely academic importance. Even with their fate not entirely in their own hands, the two under fire teams needed to put up a final show for the sake of their fans at the very least.

The beleaguered Raymond Domenech rung in some big changes in what was his final appearance at the helm of Les Bleus. Captain Patrice Evra, Florent Malouda, Sidney Govou, Nicolas Anelka (sent home), Eric Abidal and Jeremy Toulalan (suspension) were replaced by Sebastien Squillaci, Alou Diarra (captain for the day), Djibril Cisse, Yoann Gourcuff, Andre-Pierre Gignac and Gael Clichy. Bafana Bafana also made 5 changes to their squad as they looked to give their fans a reason to cheer with an attacking formation.

The French squad may have been in utter disarray but a line up with some fresh faces promised redemption for the fans and players alike. The South Africans on the other hand were on the verge of being the first hosts to be knocked out in the first round itself in the history of the FIFA World Cup and therefore, had an incentive to bow out on a high. The start of the match was positive to say the least, as both sides looked to get on the front foot and carve out a chance or two.

Andre-Pierre Gignac had the first shot at goal in the 3rd minute but his tame side footed effort was straight at the hosts' keeper Moeneeb Josephs (in place of the suspended Itumeleng Khune). Djibril Cisse too made his presence felt when he headed one straight to the South African keeper in the 10th minute. However, it was the Bafana Bafana who got the breakthrough in the 20th minute when central defender Bongani Khumalo headed one into the back of the net from a corner. Hugo Lloris made a ghastly error in the French goal as he misjudged the flight of the ball and Khumalo rose above Diaby to give the South Africans the lead. The hosts were in no mood to let off the tempo and Katlego Mphela almost scored the second in the 25th minute but his effort drifted wide of Hugo Lloris' goal.

France's response received a major jolt minutes later when Yoann Gourcuff received a straight red from Colombian referee Oscar Ruiz for a flailing elbow which caught MacBeth Sibaya. It was a very harsh decision for the French to digest as there seemed to be no intent from the French playmaker. A goal down and a man down with more than an hour to play; the writing was well and truly on the wall for the Les Bleus. The South Africans on the other hand, had a visible spring in their step as they looked to hammer the decisive blow to the deflated French.

The second goal came in the 37th minute when Tsepo Masilela hammered a ball across the goal and Clichy was unable to prevent Mphela to tap it in. Les Bleus almost went three behind moments later but Mphela was ruled off side. The French tried to stitch a reply and Ribery came close with a free kick from 40 yards that had almost drifted into the goal before Josephs fisted it over the bar and into the corner. The European giants (of yore) were a shadow of their usual selves with no discipline on the field; no marking of the dangerous players from South Africa and no signs of any player willing to don the leadership hat with the team in a hole. Mphela tried his luck from the edge of the box in the 42nd minute but his goal bound effort was parried away by Lloris for a corner.

As the first half came to an end, more good news filtered in for the South African team as they learnt that Uruguay were leading the Mexicans by a goal to nil. However, the host nation still trailed the Mexicans on goal difference by a margin of two and needed some luck to go their way to script a miraculous escape.

thierry_henry.jpgFrance brought on Florent Malouda for Gignac, who had another listless outing on the right side of midfield. The South Africans started really brightly and Mphela almost got on the scoresheet again, but his effort clipped the outside of the post with Lloris well beaten. The striker was in the thick of action again in the 58th minute when his sweetly struck effort was adroitly saved by Lloris. Thierry Henry came on for Djibril Cisse as France looked to the once inspirational skipper to engineer any semblance of a comeback.

France got a goal back to dent the hosts' last 16 chances in the 68th minute when Frank Ribery laid the ball delightfully in the path of Malouda with the keeper taken out of the equation. It was the first goal from the French in a hugely disappointing World Cup for them and their fans. The remaining minutes petered out to a relatively dull end as both sides lacked the legs to go for a spectacular ending. Tshabalala almost restored the 2 goal lead for the South Africans in added time but Lloris held firm and blocked the effort.

When the match ended, so did the French and South African World Cup campaigns with it. The hosts at least had the consolation of finishing on a high as they beat the 2006 runners-up 2-1 on the night. France brought an end to their rather forgettable adventure in South Africa, and it is pretty clear that this is not the last we will hear of that story. Uruguay and Mexico deservingly booked their places in the last 16 from Group A and await the top 2 teams from Group B, who will be determined later tonight.

Teams:

France: Lloris, Squillaci, Gallas, Clichy, Sagna, Diarra (Govou 82'), Diaby, Cisse (Henry 55'), Gourcuff, Ribery, Gignac (Malouda 45')

South Africa: Josephs, Khumalo, Mokoena, Masilela, Ngcongca (Gaxa55'), Sibaya, Khuboni (Modise 78'), Mphela, Pienaar, Tshabalala, Parker (Nomvethe 68')

France 0-2 South Africa
Khumalo (South Africa) 20'
Mphela (South Africa) 37'
Malouda (France) 68'

Check out the Points Table

Also Read:

Uruguay 1-0 Mexico (Match Report)

File Photograph Copyright: Ryu Voelkel

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