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Mexico, SA share   honours

Andrew Browne, [email protected]

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JOHANNESBURG – South Africa nearly made a perfect start to the World Cup yesterday, scoring early in the second half before conceding a late goal in a 1-1 draw with Mexico in the opening match of the tournament.
Rafael Marquez provided the heart-breaking equaliser after Andres Guardado floated in a left-footed cross from the left. The unmarked Marquez controlled the ball and side-footed it into the net in the 79th minute.
Siphiwe Tshabalala had given the host nation a dream start, finishing off a well-worked move in the 55th to set off wild celebrations at Soccer City among the more than 90 000 horn-blowing fans.
The hosts strung together a fine series of passes from inside their own half and Kagisho Dikgacoi found Tshabalala clear of the Mexican defence. With no one in support, the winger let fly with a powerful left-footed angled shot which flew past the goalkeeper into the far corner.
The South Africans came close to scoring a winner in the 90th when Katlego Mphela got clear of two markers but his shot hit the near post.
The first World Cup match to be staged on the continent followed a day of celebration throughout all of Africa – though the excitement was tempered by the death of Nelson Mandela’s great-granddaughter in a car accident on the eve of the tournament.
Beyond the personal heartbreak, the tragedy stole a moment of triumph from the 91-year-old anti-apartheid leader, who campaigned to bring the World Cup to his nation despite skepticism it could be pulled off. Mandela mourned with his family and opted not to attend the match or the colourful opening ceremony that preceded it.
Early in the match, Mexico coach Javier Aguirre kept his word as the Mexicans attacked in force from the kick-off.
The hosts could have been a goal down inside the first two minutes when goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune fumbled a low cross. Giovani Dos Santos was presented with an easy shot but South Africa captain Aaron Mokoena rescued his team with a well-timed block.
The attack-minded Mexicans continued to create chances but lacked accuracy and, when Carlos Vela had the ball in the net from a flicked-on corner, it was disallowed for offside.
Forced to defend for most of the time, the South Africans posed few threats but went close just before half-time. Tshabalala’s cross from the left found Mphela unmarked in front of goal but he failed to reach it with only the goalkeeper to beat. (AP)