Bafana threatened to run riot for a period, but ultimately their hopes were extinguished, along with those of les Bleus.
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South Africa seemed on course for miraculous progress to the knockout stages of the World Cup but ultimately missed out after a 2-1 victory over France.
Bongani Khumalo gave Bafana Bafana the lead against the run of play, and when Yoann Gourcuff was harshly dismissed midway through the first period the hosts smelled history. The impressive Katlego Mphela struck before the break, but chances were missed and when Florent Malouda pulled a goal back for their guests, the Rainbow Nation’s dream was effectively ended.
France started the match not cutting the kind of shape that one might expect of a team in disarray, though they were hardly playing with the fizz that might be anticipated of such a star-studded unit.
A clever pass from Yoann Gourcuff, one of six new faces in les Bleus’ starting XI, created an early chance for another newcomer, Andre-Pierre Gignac, though the Toulouse striker finished tamely when well placed in the box after just three minutes. The Europeans continued to push on, but the best they could manage in their early spell was a headed flick from Djibril Cisse from the edge of the penalty box.
With the passing of the 15 minute mark, Bafana Bafana started to push away from their penalty box and offer some threat of their own. Having not truly threatened in the early stages, the World Cup hosts grabbed the advantage when Hugo Lloris got nowhere near a corner kick, allowing Khumalo to out-jump Abou Diaby to head home.
Although Gignac quickly offered a shot over the bar as a reply from the French, South Africa looked at ease with their lead and were then given a big helping hand by Colombian referee Oscar Ruiz. Gourcuff leapt for a high ball in the South Africa penalty box and innocuously hit MacBeth Sibaya in the face. Though there was undoubtedly contact, it seemed clear that there was no intent in the midfielder’s action.
Given the circumstances, it was little surprise France grew a little ragged against a fantastically hungry home side. With the crowd right behind their favourites, South Africa found a second goal before the break. Siphiwe Tshabalala worked his way in down the left impressively, and when he fired into a dangerous area, Mphela scrambled the ball over the line.
Bernard Parker soon had the ball in Lloris’ net once again, but he was correctly ruled offside.
A Franck Ribery free kick at the other end of the field forced Moeneeb Josephs to turn the bouncing ball over his crossbar, though William Gallas might have struck had he made contact with the accurate centre.
Bafana were dominating, and they nearly had a precious third goal when Mphela’s angled drive was touched wide for a corner kick.
Needing goals, it was little surprise to see South Africa bright and breezy after the half-time interval. Bernard Parker shot into the midriff of Lloris before a terrific pass from Siphiwe Tshabalala released Mphela. With his first touch, the Mamelodi Sundowns striker swept the ball over Lloris but against the outside of the post.
Just before the hour mark, Mphela tried his luck from range, but Lloris dived to his right to make a commendable save.
France were not totally impotent. Ribery shot over when he should have instead passed to substitute Thierry Henry, who replaced Cisse, who himself had a snapshot go narrowly over just after the interval.
Such forays were rare, whereas the sight of Mphela running purposefully at the French defence was not. The striker snuck in down the right channel next, but Lloris made the block when the angle was very much against the Bafana attacker.
Against the run of play, Malouda stuck a dagger in South Africa’s challenge, silencing even the vuvuzelas. Good play in the heart of the midfield from Abou Diaby released Ribery down the right channel, and the Bayern Munich man defeated the advancing Josephs with a neat square pass to his Chelsea-based team-mate, who simply couldn’t miss.
This goal seemed to take the sting out of the game, though both coaches were still attempting to shape their sides into increasingly attacking formations. Bafana’s attacks lacked the purpose they once boasted and there would be no late miracle, with Tshabalala superbly denied by Lloris.
South Africa exit the tournament as the first host nation to fail to progress by the group stages, but at least they leave with their heads held high, which certainly cannot be said of Raymond Domenech’s men.