So the World Cup is under way, and it was a pretty engaging opening match in Jo’burg between hosts South Africa and Mexico. I’ll be trying to bring you a bit of reaction from each game I manage to watch throughout the tournament, but bear in mind it is 3.49am as I write this… normal standards may not apply!
Both sides seemed to struggle with the side of the occasion to begin with in this match, South Africa were certainly over-excited for the first five or ten minutes and it nearly cost them. They had lost their heads and were charging around blindly, not getting anywhere near the ball. That gave Mexico a fantastic chance to get off to a blinder but their own erratic final ball and finishing denied them that chance.
And as far as Mexico are concerned, that seems to be a real problem for them. Despite having the lions’ share of possession, they rarely really threatened the hosts goal, and when they did it was usually through a moment of magic from Gio Dos Santos who looks to be starting to live up to the hype that surrounded him a few years ago before he left Barca to join Spurs.
The really strange thing with Mexico’s play is that they seemed unaware that there are two sides to the pitch – almost literally everything that they did went down their right hand side, which was occupied by Aguilar who was finding space easily in the first half. It would have been effective had their final ball been better, because the South African defence was often too narrow, but I just think that stretching them on both sides would have been better.
Indeed, I thought at half time that introducing Guardado on the left hand side would be a good call and it seemed that Aguirre agreed as I saw the Deportivo man warming up. However, when the substitution was made it was Aguilar who made ay, with Dos Santos shifting wide and Guardado playing through the middle. As such, the focus remained down one side only and once the hosts has adjusted that approach became too predictable to be really effective – an opportunity missed for Mexico.
I have to say too, that Carlos Vela doesn’t seem to have enough to his game to work in the system he was used. Played with Gio Dos Santos behind Franco who was leading the line, Vela went missing for long periods (perhaps creating the left side void) and his use of the ball was often poor. I certainly wouldn’t be surprised to see Guardado or Hernandez used from the start in their next match – Vela looks to me to be an out-and-out poacher and not much more, but maybe time will prove me wrong.
As for the hosts, I think they’ll be delighted with their performance. Realistically they’ll know that a draw against Mexico is a great result despite the fact that it looked for a while as though they’d sneak a win, thanks to Tshabalala’s truly fantastic goal. While not as spectacular as Phillip Lahm’s opener for Germany four years ago, it was a goal worthy of getting the World Cup underway, a nice team move and an emphatic finish.
Defensively though, they will be found wanting by teams with more cutting edge than Mexico. Too often drawn in, they were very narrow and prone to giving the ball away in dangerous positions – if they should progress through the group stages then a team with real class would punish these errors without mercy.
I was very impressed with Tshabalala though, he’s got a good engine and links up well with the attack from midfield. And even though Steven Pienaar was not quite his usual lively self for the hosts, you can see how important he is to their system. Constantly dropping into the hold between midfield and attack he is the link man who brings others into play and allows the dynamic athleticism of the players breaking from deep to get involved and impact upon the attacks.
Overall, I would say that 1-1 was probably a fair result. You feel for the home fans, what a story it would have been for them to get off to a winning start, but Mexico did dominate possession and will be disappointed not to have taken all three points. That said, it is Bafana Bafana who came closest to winning it, with Modise and Mphela both missing very presentable chances late on. A good energizing start to the World Cup, I hope you enjoyed it and I’d love to hear your thoughts on the game – please leave a comment below.
Now, it’s 4.05am, I’m off to bed!