Mexico controlled the run of play for most of the first half, with South Africa really only mounting sustained pressure in the final few minutes. Both sides were let down by some poor execution in the offensive end with multiple good chances gone a begging.
The game opened up about 10 minutes into the second half, and happily, the first goal of the World Cup was was a beautiful rocket into the upper V. I loved the choreographed celebration on the sideline as well. Macarena? I dunno, but fun, and the NFL could learn a lesson or two about letting players have a good time after scoring.
A brilliant save about 15 minutes into the 2nd half preserved the 1-0 lead for South Africa. The openness and fluidity of the game at this point stood in stark contrast to the more tentative first half. As is almost always the case, the score forced the trailing team onto the attack. When that happens, the spaces open on the defense and the team becomes more susceptible to counterattack. This makes for wonderful soccer, nine times out of 10.
Mexico was lucky not to give up a penalty in the midst of this action, but by and large I was pleased with the officiating. The game flowed nicely, despite yellow cards being shown when necessary. If form holds, FIFA will object to the good job being done, tell the officials to straighten up, and we’ll see a flood of red cards ruining the tournament by the end of the second week.
I enjoyed seeing Blanco sub in for Mexico in the middle of the 2nd half if only because it meant I actually had a familiar face on the pitch. Never the fleetest of foot, Blanco is a player now who I, admittedly, think is too old and slow to be very effective. Still, he’s like a comfortable pair of old jeans: You know what you’re getting into and it doesn’t feel that bad however it might look. He did nothing wonderful during the game, but avoided disgracing himself, which I suppose is something.
A grievous defense error by South Africaâ€”one defender stayed in the box, keeping three Mexican forwards onsideâ€”cost a goal 34 minutes into the 2nd half. This was all the more unfortunate in that South Africa had up to this point put in a solid defensive effort.
Notable in the final frantic moments (as both teams pushed to score the winning goal) was just how effective the long ball was against the Mexican defense. A three-quarters of the field punt from the keeper allowed a forward to run between two defenders and come within two feet of scoring the game winner. (It clanged the post and went wide instead.)
The 1-1 final was a good result for South Africa who is not expected to advance out of Group A. Mexico now must look for points against France and Uruguay, an unlikely event with the former and a difficult one against the latter. A good start to the tournament for the rest of us, though!