South Africa nearly made perfect start
JOHANNESBURG (AP) - South Africa nearly made a perfect start to the World Cup on Friday, scoring early in the second half before conceding a late goal in a 1-1 draw with Mexico in the opening match of the tournament.
Rafael Marquez provided the heart-breaking equalizer after Andres Guardado floated in a left-footed cross from the left. The unmarked Marquez controlled the ball and side-footed it into the net in the 79th minute.
Siphiwe Tshabalala had given the host nation a dream start, finishing off a well-worked move in the 55th to set off wild celebrations at Soccer City among the more than 90,000 horn-blowing fans.
The hosts strung together a fine series of passes from inside their own half and Kagisho Dikgacoi found Tshabalala clear of the Mexican defense. With no one in support, the winger let fly with a powerful left-footed angled shot which flew past the goalkeeper into the far corner.
"It was a great goal, very special for me," Tshabalala said. "It was something of a present because I was celebrating my 50th appearance."
The South Africans came close to scoring a winner in the 90th when Katlego Mphela got clear of two markers but his shot hit the near post.
"That could have been the killer goal," Tshabalala said. "It would have been a great goal. There's nothing we can do about it."
South Africa coach Carlos Alberto Parreira was content with the one point.
"We could easily have won the game," the Brazilian coach said. "All in all at the end a draw is a fair result. We are still in the competition. This group is very tough."
The first World Cup match to be staged on the continent followed a day of celebration throughout all of Africa - though the excitement was tempered by the death of Nelson Mandela's great-granddaughter in a car accident on the eve of the tournament.
Beyond the personal heartbreak, the tragedy stole a moment of triumph from the 91-year-old anti-apartheid leader, who campaigned to bring the World Cup to his nation despite skepticism it could be pulled off. Mandela mourned with his family and opted not to attend the match or the colorful opening ceremony that preceded it.
Early in the match, Mexico coach Javier Aguirre kept his word as the Mexicans attacked in force from the kickoff. The hosts could have been a goal down inside the first two minutes when goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune fumbled a low cross. Giovani Dos Santos was presented with an easy shot at goal but South Africa captain Aaron Mokoena rescued his team with a well-timed block.
The attack-minded Mexicans continued to create chances but lacked accuracy and, when Carlos Vela had the ball in the net from a flicked-on corner, it was disallowed for offside.
"We weren't able to finish," Aguirre said. "I think the team missed a couple of really good opportunities and things got really complicated when they scored the opening goal. We then became chaotic."
Forced to defend for most of the time, the South Africans posed few threats but went close just before halftime. Tshabalala's cross from the left found Mphela unmarked in front of goal but he failed to reach it with only the goalkeeper to beat.
"We could have won, we could have lost," Aguirre said. "Let's see what happens with France and Uruguay and then we can see if this result is good or bad. I think both teams are going away with a bitter taste. But that's what we've got. We now have to beat France."
Later Friday, France and Uruguay faced each other in the other Group A match.
"The team that makes four points will qualify." Parreira said. "Whatever happens against Uruguay, this group will be decided in the last game against France."
South Africa: Itumeleng Khune, Siboniso Gaxa, Bongani Khumalo, Aaron Mokoena, Lucas Thwala (Tsepo Masilela, 45), Teko Modise, Reneilwe Letsholonyane, Kagisho Dikgacoi, Siphiwe Tshabalala, Steven Pienaar (Bernard Parker, 83), Katlego Mphela.
Mexico: Oscar Perez, Francisco Rodriguez, Carlos Salcido, Rafael Marquez, Ricardo Osorio, Gerardo Torrado, Guillermo Franco (Javier Hernandez, 73), Carlos Vela (Cuauhtemoc Blanco, 68), Paul Aguilar (Andres Guardado, 56), Efrain Juarez, Giovani Dos Santos.