The World's Blog: Opening Day
Posted by: World Blogger
The first day of the 2010 World Cup kicked off in South Africa with two draws. The host nation tied 1-1 with Mexico while Uruguay and France battled to a clean sheet final. But what was the REAL story?
Mexico 1, South Africa 1
Since last week, the butterflies in my stomach had been increasingly building-up leading up to today’s match. I could hardly sleep during last few days. Coming into the match, I felt confident and excited.
I elected to watch the match with my close friends and wife at home. My day started at 4AM today which is extremely rare in my life. One would not have thought it was 6:30AM, thanks to my friend David, Todd, Chris, and my wife Katie, they brought a party atmosphere, energy and enthusiasm to my living room. We opted-out of Univision and their so-called HD and switched to the coverage on ESPN HD. I am glad we did as Martin Tyler’s commentary added that bit of special football-flavor I enjoy from Arlo White’s commentary. I could not believe how loud it was in Soccer City. It was very reminiscent of Azteca. I was sad not to see Mandela at the opening game. I send my condolences to him, his family, and the South African contingent.
El Tri looked amazing and dominated the pitch during the first half. It was a frustrating first half…lots of chances but none going into the back of the net. I knew that if Bafana Bafana went into the half nil-nil the momentum would shift…I hate it when I am right. Bafana Bafana turned it around and after their first goal I began to get worried…really worried. I began to feel sick. It is amazing what home-field advantage, a well-placed pass, hustle, and a great finish can do to a team. It seemed like Bafana Bafana took the life out of El Tri and me. I kept yelling at the television and at coach Aguirre (as if he could hear me), “get some subs into the game…get Chicharrito into it…get Blanco into it…do something…why in the world is Memo Ochoa not starting as our keeper?”
After Aguirre took heed of my advice, the momentum began to slowly shift. Bafana Bafana could have ended the game several times. I was very thankful we were only a goal behind. Marques brought me back to life after scoring a magnificent and much needed goal. It was life giving. If it had not been for that goal I would not have gone into to work this morning. I do not think I could have handled defeat well so early in the tournament. Although we did not win, I was glad to draw. Like Sigi said last season, “There are good draws and there are bad draws.” I will have to say this was good draw for both nations. Congratulations to Bafana Bafana and the South African Contingent for an unforgettable game and for scoring the first goal of the World Cup.
The wait for the 2010 World Cup was finally over at 4 o'clock in Johannesburg, but not until Siphiwe Tshabalala's breathtaking goal in the 54th minute was the weight of the world off the shoulders of a young nation. The first goal (and dance!) of the first World Cup in Africa was scored by a true Sowetan, and the sight of Desmond Tutu getting his proverbial groove on in the VIP box -- with VP Joe Biden and other world leaders looking on -- will stay forever embedded in my mind.
Not only was it one of the better goals you'll see in any World Cup, but It was hard to envision such a moment after how the game started. A sense of dread befell Soccer City with Nelson Mandela's appearance canceled due the death of his great-granddaughter hours earlier. Then the first twenty minutes of the game it looked as though South Africa would succumb to nerves.
But after somehow reaching halftime with the score deadlocked, a dreadlocked local boy with a sweet name broke free to ensure they wouldn't be the first World Cup hosts to lose their opening match. Rafael Marquez evened the score in the 75th, but it was the favored Mexicans who should fortunate to come a way with a share of the spoils against Carlos Parreira's men -- who have now gone thirteen matches undefeated despite being the underdog.
France 0, Uruguay 0
After a hair-pulling, frustration filled 90 minutes that resembled a Portland Timbers youth match more than a normally classic European v South American World Cup encounter, my fellow Frenchmen and I are finding it harder and harder to protect the little optimism that remains in our hearts. Les Bleus faced off against an Uruguayan side tonight seemingly enamored with the Italian style of play: stick 11 men behind the ball and smother any hope of French creativity.
Of course, it didn’t help that Raymond Domenech refused to instill any sense of confidence or flair in his side, opting for predictable defensive minded midfielders such as the grey-haired Toulalan and even the young Abou Diaby instead of Chelsea’s sparkling, magical Malouda (who made an instant impact off of the bench, but in another unfortunate instance of too little too late).
I’d be lucky if I could write today that this French performance was out of character and one of the worst I’ve ever seen; unfortunately, any Frenchman from Marseille to Caen will point out that Les Bleus, because of Domenech, stumbled through Euro 08 and World Cup Qualifying, not to mention losing to China last week. If we have any chance of making it out of formidable Group A, Domenech will need to change his tactics and selections. If not, an early “fin” will surely manifest.
I almost always have to slam on the snooze button a few times when the morning calls for a 6:30 a.m. wake up. Today, however, my eyes opened at 6:27 without the aid of electronics, and I had an internal energy which only comes every four years.
While the morning South Africa-Mexico game fed that energy, the mid-day Uruguay-France game took it away. Okay, maybe it had something to do with all that beer before noon.
Either way, anyone looking for a reason as to why soccer is still having trouble becoming big-time in the States need look no further than this game.
Uruguay did what they had to do when it retracted into its defensive shell. They got a point against hated France - the BP of international soccer. I guess that makes France coach Raymond Domenech the Tony Hayward of French football. Don't pretend like you're rooting for them considering the handball that got them in the tournament in the first place. They are not a team that warms your heart (unless you're French).
My French buddy that was over for the match, let's call him "escargot," said it best. "That sucked." Music to Uruguayan ears.