Installed as overwhelming favourites to win Group A immediately after the Final Draw in December, the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ will not be remembered fondly by France. Torn apart by internal conflict, Les Bleus’ time at the tournament was as brief as it was unimpressive. With one solitary point from their three group matches, France’s collective failure paved the way for Uruguay and Mexico to claim the two available qualifying slots in Group A. The other story in the pool was provided by the South Africans; despite their very best efforts, they became the first host nation to be eliminated at the group stage of the tournament.
Uruguay: Led by a Diego Forlan playing at the top of his game, La Celeste’s performances appeared to improve as each game went by. An incredibly solid defence, coupled with a dangerous front line, laid the foundations for a goalless draw with France, a clinical 3-0 victory over South Africa and a resilient 1-0 defeat of Mexico. If they can maintain their form, the Uruguayans have the potential to go far.
Mexico: While there is no doubting El Tri’s fearsome attacking attributes, Javier Aguirre’s men certainly need to work on their finishing. Giovani dos Santos, Carlos Vela, Guillermo Franco, Javier Hernandez and Andres Guardado will have their cards marked in the Round of 16, because in 40 attacking moves spread out across three matches, the CONCACAF side managed just three goals, one of which was scored by defender Rafael Marquez and another via a penalty kick.
South Africa: Sadly for Bafana Bafana, they will be remembered as the first hosts of the FIFA World Cup to fail to reach the next round of the competition. Fortunately, they also made their mark in other, more positive ways. Their energetic 2-1 win over France, where qualification appeared a realistic possibility at one point, will remain in the memory of South Africa’s fans for some time to come. And their campaign was also useful in revealing to the rest of the world some of the top-quality players present in their squad, such as Itumeleng Khune, Siphiwe Tshabalala and Katlego Mphela.
France: It has been a long time since a French team were found wanting so badly at a FIFA World Cup. Unable to register a single win, Florent Malouda’s consolation goal in their final match at least ensured they did not follow in the footsteps of the 2002 France side, incapable of finding the net in 270 minutes of football. This time around, the real trouble lay off the pitch, with in-fighting pulling apart a squad whose mental strength was already fragile, following on from a shaky qualifying campaign. A fresh start under Laurent Blanc awaits.
Moments to savour
A new-look Uruguay
“We would like to offer more from an attacking point of view. We want to play in a faster, more intelligent style. We’ve got a team that really opens up when going forward,” said Edinson Cavani after Uruguay’s comprehensive defeat of South Africa. Long hailed for their fighting spirit, the former world champions have rediscovered a liking for attacking football. With four goals in three matches, more are doubtless set to follow.
Blanco, white knight
Originally a slightly surprising call-up, 37-year-old Cuauhtemoc Blanco became the oldest Mexican player to appear in a FIFA World Cup match. After coming off the bench to score a penalty against France, he went on to start the following match with Uruguay.
Sensation at Soccer City
Fifty-five minutes had gone by in the Opening Match in Johannesburg. A dominant Mexican side had passed up numerous chances to open the scoring against South Africa. Kagisho Dikgacoi then releases Siphiwe Tshabalala with a fine through ball. From the corner of the box, the Kaizer Chiefs midfielder unleashes an unstoppable shot into the top corner of the net, scoring one of the goals of the tournament so far.
Back to the bus
Following remarks of an insulting nature that Nicolas Anelka was reputed to have made about his coach at half-time during the France-Mexico game, the Chelsea striker was politely asked to catch the next plane home. The next day, his team-mates decided to boycott their scheduled training session in protest at Anelka’s expulsion, preferring instead to sit on the team bus. Not the best conditions in which to prepare for a crucial match.
0 - The number of goals conceded by Uruguay in three group matches, a first for La Celeste. It is also the first time since 1954 that they have finished top of their group.
The final word
“Our performances were just not good enough for us to hope to reach the next round. I would like to apologise on behalf of all of the players. We’ll talk about it as a group. It’s a difficult thing to go through. We’re not proud of what we did, and I don’t know how we can make up for it,” Florent Malouda, France midfielder.