The main story thus far in the World Cup isn’t all the wackiness going on with the French and England squads or the vuvuzela’s. Not by a long shot. The main story of this tournament is and will continue to be the refereeing. Every match seems to have at least one major gaffe, an entire match worth of consistently poor calls or inconsistent application of the rules. Yellow cards come out early, then aren’t seen again despite clear plays, red cards are shown for nebulous fouls and blatant handballs have gone unpunished. OK, the football hasn’t been top caliber in every match, but the refereeing should never be the main story.
I didn’t really know what to expect from France today after the week they’ve had. Thankfully, the French side seemed to regain some measure of self esteem and opened their last Group match against the home Bafana Bafana of South Africa in quite good form. Sadly, the renewed spirit was not rewarded with a result. There was real intent and purpose from the Arsenal-led Les Bleus early on as they threw themselves into both attacking and defending responsibilities. Both sides looked to take opportunities as they traded offensive jabs throughout the first 20 minutes. South Africa struck first though, with a brilliant header by Bongani Khumalo off a corner kick just on the 20 minute mark. There will be calls that Diaby lost Khumalo on the marking, but Hugo Lloris clearly whiffed to get a touch on the ball as it sailed towards Khumalo’s head and into the net. Things started to fall apart for France at this point, especially following Yoann Gourcuff being sent off on 25 minutes for a wild elbow to the head of MacBeth Sibaya in the box. Down a man, the French attack became more tentative and it was only a matter of time before South Africa notched another goal. Sure enough, the 37th minute saw South Africa build up play, cross into the box and take advantage of a free ball to cross again from the 6 yard area to right in front of the goal for a bundled in score by Katlego Mphela. Arsenal’s Gael Clichy was negligent on clearing the final ball and Mphela was the man on the spot to make it 2-0 for South Africa. Second half sub Florent Malouda cut the deficit to 1 on 70 minutes, scoring the only goal for France in the 2010 World Cup. The second half was an exciting, if academic affair with France down a man and South Africa failing to add to their lead. France and South Africa are now out of the 2010 World Cup.
With Carlos Vela sitting out through injury, I only took a cursory glance or two at the Mexico-Uruguay match. Uruguay took top honors in the Group with a 1-0 win on a 43rd minute goal by Luis Suarez. Uruguay now face South Korea in the Round of 16 on Saturday, while Mexico will line up against high flying Argentina on Sunday.
Vela Gets A Rest As Mexico Lose And Win At The Same Time
Carlos Vela had the day off for injury recovery as his Mexico side took the 1-0 loss to Uruguay. With South Africa failing to close the goal differential though, El Tri were able to secure moving into the Knockout Stage despite the defeat.
Sagna Has Quiet Day On Right Side
Bacary Sagna’s World Cup finished with a rather quiet day on the French right side as much of the South African attack came centrally or from the left. He managed his responsibilities well when called upon, but there were few opportunities to feature in play.
Clichy Starts At Left Back – Suffers On Crucial Goal
I’m disappointed for Gael Clichy. I had huge hopes for him this World Cup, and really wanted to see him step up on the international level. Sadly, taking the first two matches from the bench and getting the start today after what surely was an emotional week for everyone, this will be a World Cup Gael will want to forget. Clichy was active on the left side and closed down nicely some early South African possessions and was always looking to make the overlapping run when France switched to the attack. Clichy’s nightmare moment came on 37 minutes when he failed to control a cross into the French goal area and the ball was bundled into the net for South Africa’s second goal. The cross had some zip on it, and the close proximity to the goal might have given some nerves to Clichy, but he really should have been able to deal with it better. Playing for Arsenal in the toughest European club league and getting massive Champions League experience, one expects better from the Gunners’ left back. Gael needs to put this experience behind him and return to top form for Arsenal in the upcoming season.
Diaby Puts In Positive Shift On Tough Day
Abou Diaby was once again impressive. Early doors saw him with a quality ball into the right corner and he was effectively active in his midfield role. There are times when Diaby seems to really exert his presence on a match and there were some real flashes of that today with galloping runs forward while controlling the ball, tracking back to close down South African possession and good vision with his passing. As mentioned above, Diaby might have done better to mark Khumalo on the opening goal, but the blame shouldn’t largely be at Diaby’s feet on that one. While the squad results may not have been great, Abou Diaby gained some valuable experience from this World Cup that he can take forward with Arsenal next season.
Gallas Returns To Arsenal Form
Well, what a difference a few days can make! I almost thought William Gallas was wearing Red and White again, such was his overall performance today. Supportive to his back line mates in coverage, moving forward centrally when the opportunity presented and displaying a real willingness to collect the back four as they tried to keep South Africa from battering Hugo Lloris, Gallas looked ever so sharp.
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