South Africa posted an inspired 2-1 victory over France in its final Group A game, but it wasn't enough to move the host nation into the Round of 16.
A victory, but no Round of 16.
Needing a win from either Mexico or Uruguay and a one-sided victory of their own to stay in contention for a spot in the Round of 16, South Africa and France were faced with a difficult task Tuesday when they faced off in their final group stage game.
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South Africa used the energy of the vuvuzela-blowing crowd at Free State Stadium in Bloemfontein to jump out to a 1-0 lead after 20 minutes on Bongani Khumalo's header off a perfectly placed corner kick by Siphiwe Tshabalala.
Things went from bad to worse for France shortly after as Yoann Gourcuff was red carded in the 25th minute for an elbow to the head of Macbeth Sibaya during a challenge in the South African penalty area.
South Africa added another goal before the half after some pedestrian defending by the French. Katlego Mphela scored an easy tap-in at the goalmouth after the ball ricocheted off two French defenders.
Florent Malouda's goal midway through the second half — his country's only goal of the tournament — was small consolation for the French, who finished with a 0-2-1 record.
It was a nightmarish World Cup for the once-distinguished French side. There was widespread dissension among the players over Raymond Domenech's managing during the tournament, with striker Nicolas Anelka being sent home after the second game, the team refusing to practise and Patrice Evra being stripped of his captaincy before the final game.
Thierry Henry entered the game in the 55th minute but failed to ignite his side. It was likely his final international game for France.
What this result means
The World Cup journey is over for both teams.
On account of Uruguay's 1-0 win over Mexico, the Bafana Bafana's 2-1 win over France wasn't enough for them to overtake Mexico for second place in the group. Uruguay and Mexico will be the two Group A representatives in the Round of 16. South Africa becomes the first host nation in the 80-year history of the tournament not to make it out of the group stage while France, finalists four years ago in Germany, head home in disarray after a hugely disappointing tournament.
France would probably like to have this one back. Sloppy defending in their 18-yard box led to South Africa's second and deciding goal of the game. Katlego Mphela was in the right place at the right time, burying the loose ball as it clumsily skipped off the shins of Abou Diaby and Gael Clichy for a 2-0 lead.
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The sending off of a player in any game would normally render the turning point moniker, but playing with 10 men after Yoann Gouroff's red card in the 25th minute didn't change France's play all that much. Instead, it was the Bafana Bafana's second goal — the result of pedestrian defending — that sank the hopes of Les Bleus.
Man of the match
Katlego Mphela was undoubtedly the most dangerous man on the field for the Bafana Bafana. Not only did he score the winner, but he also gave the French back four fits with his speed and well-timed runs. He wasn't afraid to have a go at goal either, forcing French goalkeeper Hugo Lloris to make two diving saves in the 43rd and 58th minute, which would have given the South Africans a healthy lead (and perhaps that coveted trip to the Round of 16).
Mphela, who plays for Mamelodi Sundowns of the South African Premier League, should certainly see attention from European clubs after his performance here.
Honourable mention to Tshabalala, whose great service on corner kicks and determination in the midfield were key to South Africa's win. Tshabalala took on the midfield general role as much of France's attention was on defending Bafana Bafana playmaker Steven Pienaar.
Goal of the match
South Africa's opening goal was the best of the match. Hulking defender Bongani Khumalo headed in a perfect in-swing corner kick from Siphiwe Tshabalala to send the vuvuzelas buzzing in Bloemfontein. South Africa benefited by indecisive goaltending by Lloris, who came out tentatively and missed the cross, and defending by Abou Diaby, who allowed Khumalo a free header.
The South African perspective
"Of course we're disappointed we did not qualify but I do not consider this a failure. I believe the whole country is proud." – coach Carlos Alberto Parreira
The French perspective
"It's the hard and harsh reality of our situation. So I have a genuine sense of sadness." – coach Raymond Domenech