South Africa beat France 2-1 for only their second FIFA World Cup™ victory, but both teams ultimately emerged losers in Bloemfontein. Carlos Alberto Parreira's team became the first host nation to fail to qualify for the tournament's second round while a miserable campaign from the French came to a predictable conclusion as they also bowed out of South Africa 2010.
The African side's story was ultimately one of disappointment as they exited their own tournament on goal difference with Mexico taking the second qualifying place in Group A behind Uruguay. For France there was further ignominy as a second defeat in three games provided a fitting epitaph to the sense of disharmony which had infected Raymond Domenech's squad virtually since the opening game.
The beleaguered coach, who now leaves his post, made six changes to the team that had gone down to Mexico in their previous game – with captain Patrice Evra one of those dropped. However, initially France promised to lift the gloom for their followers with some attacking thrusts. One should have seen Andre-Pierre Gignac fire them into an early lead but he could only direct his attempt straight at Moneeb Josephs who was deputising in the South African goal for the suspended Itumeleng Khune. Djibril Cisse then flicked on Abou Diaby's floated pass but again the goalkeeper was behind it all the way.
Bafana Bafana were not short of voluble support and the stadium erupted with joy in the 20th minute when they took the lead. It followed a right-sided corner which precipitated a mistake by Hugo Lloris who was unable to put a glove on the ball, allowing Bongani Khumalo to profit from his towering leap at the far post and a downward header gave the host nation the lead.
Their hopes raised, South Africa kept pouring forward in search of further goals which would be crucial if it came down to goal difference. At the other end of the field came a decision that would help their cause as Yoann Gourcuff duelled for an aerial ball with MacBeth Sibaya and was shown the red card as the home midfielder lay on the ground requiring treatment.
Parreira's side sensed their chance as 12 minutes later Katlego Mphela bundled the ball in at the far post after Tsepo Masilela's ball across had caught the French defence in confusion. News that Uruguay had taken the lead against Mexico only added to the sense of euphoria around the stadium and not even a chance for France, which William Gallas failed to seize as a free-kick found him unmarked in the area, could dampen it down.
Mphela drew a fingertipped save from Lloris and it was he who led the charge for second-half goals, striking the crossbar, demanding another fine stop from the keeper, and then burrowing his way through only to find the side-netting. In the final reckoning those misses were to prove crucial. In the 70th minute France took a lot of sting out of South Africa's attacks as Florent Malouda, who had just appeared off the substitute's bench, was on hand to roll the ball home after Franck Ribery had unselfishly squared the ball into his path.