South Africa 1-1 Mexico: The Daily Mirror match report
Published 19:34 11/06/10 By Oliver Holt
Football and cruel fate stepped in the way of history yesterday. With great joy, came great grief.
At the very moment when Africa realised its great dream of staging a World Cup, tragedy struck Nelson Mandela, the father of the nation.
And as South Africa were on the verge of sending the entire country into ecstasy by winning the opening game in front of 84,000 fanatical supporters at Soccer City, their opponents, Mexico, grabbed a late equaliser that quietened the blaring of the vuvuzelas.
Then, in the 90th minute, the South Africa centre-forward Katiego Mphela burst through on goal and beat Mexican keeper Oscar Perez only to see his shot bounce off the foot of a post.
When the final whistle sounded, Itumeleng Khune, the South Africa goalkeeper, sank to his knees and pressed his head to the turf in despair.
He stayed there for ten seconds, prostrate and distraught. Then he sprang to his feet, raised his hands high over his head to applaud the crowd and ran to join his team-mates.
The vuvuzelas wailed and buzzed like a million mourning bees and Khune and the rest of South Africa began the process of trying to rid themselves of a nagging feeling of unease and disappointment.
Yesterday's opening match was a stunning occasion, full of fervour, grand emotion and high drama as South Africa and Mexico fought out an entertaining 1-1 draw graced by one of the finest opening goals a World Cup has ever seen.
But if the nation rejoiced, at the back of its mind it knew that Mandela was grieving, dealt another blow in a life that has seen so much suffering at the very moment of another triumph for his nation.
When he declared the World Cup under way before the game, South African president Jacob Zuma had told the crowd that Mandela had not been able to attend the game because his family had been struck by tragedy.
In the early hours of yesterday morning, his great-granddaughter, Zenani, 13, was killed in a car crash on her way home from watching the World Cup kick-off concert in Soweto.
Two days earlier, Zenani, had been beside herself with excitement when Cristiano Ronaldo had visited Mandela's house in the suburb of Houghton.
Her death ended any chance that the increasingly frail Mandela, 91, would attend the opening game and cast a shadow over the match.
South Africa still craves Mandela's presence on occasions like this, as if it needs his blessing at the most important points in its history.
His absence was a disappointment but it still did not change the fact that this was an overwhelming joyful occasion, a celebration of another great moment in South Africa's emergence from the darkness of apartheid.
In the first half, the South African side struggled to deal with the enormity of the occasion and was totally outplayed by Mexico. Only Everton's Steven Pienaar seemed comfortable in the atmosphere.
Mexico should have won the game by half time. Centre forward Guillermo Franco, who played for West Ham last season, should have scored with a free header from a corner after 15 minutes but directed it high over the bar.
Three minutes later, Mexico's best player, Giovani Dos Santos, stole the ball from Modise, ran at the South Africa defence and sliced a fierce shot just wide.
Franco was culpable again ten minutes before half time when he failed to convert a clever chipped pass from Arsenal's Carlos Vela and Vela then wasted another clear opportunity with a poor cross.
South Africa finally fashioned a decent attack two minutes before half time and Mphela was inches away from heading in Tshabalala's cross.
That was a warning for Mexico and ten minutes into the second half, Tshabalala ran on to a fine through ball and lashed an unstoppable left foot shot high into the net past the helpless Perez.
The stadium erupted. The vuvuzelas were deafening. South Africa prepared for a party and spectators began to wonder if they would get back to their homes by dawn because of the mayhem that would erupt in Johannesburg.
South Africa missed chances of their own to seal the match. Modise snatched at a clear chance when he was clean through on Perez and then directed his shot too close to the goalkeeper when he ran through again four minutes later.
Then, when the South Africans had begun to think of the laurels that would be bestowed on them, Mexico equalised. Andres Guardado sent a deep cross to the back post that found Rafa Marquez unmarked.
Marquez had time to control the ball before sidefooting it past Khune. The vuvuzelas stilled.
When Mphela missed his late chance, the guilty feeling of anti-climax set in. Never mind. There is plenty of time to shake it.