South Africa earns 1-1 draw with Mexico in opener

Jun 12, 2010 - 7:15 AM By ROBERT MILLWARD AP Soccer Writer

JOHANNESBURG(AP) -- South Africa nearly made a perfect start to the World Cup.

The host of the first soccer world championship played on the continent scored first, setting off a deafening buzz of vuvuzelas in the crowd of 84,000 at Soccer City. And even after Mexico's Rafael Marquez got a tying goal late in the opener, there was much to celebrate.

Maybe not the kind of victory that can define a team, but still a satisfying draw.

"We could easily have won the game," South Africa coach Carlos Alberto Perreira said after the 1-1 tie in Group A. "All in all, at the end a draw is a fair result. We are still in the competition. This group is very tough."

Bafana Bafana could have made it even tougher for the Mexicans - the South Africans came close to a winner in the 90th minute when Katlego Mphela got clear of two defenders, but his shot hit the near goalpost.

"That could have been the killer goal," said Siphiwe Tshabalala, who scored the first goal in the 55th minute off a superb series of passes. "It would have been a great goal. There's nothing we can do about it."

Mexico, considered a favorite in the opener, couldn't break through until Andres Guardado floated in a left-footed cross from the left side. The unmarked Marquez controlled the ball and side-footed it into the net in the 79th minute.

"They did an intelligent job defending us," Mexico's Guillermo Franco said. "Our plan was to win, but we ended up by tying."

In the night game, Uruguay and France tied 0-0.

On Saturday, the United States takes on England in a high-profile Group C match, while South Korea plays Greece and Argentina faces Nigeria in Group B.

Before a jubilant, horn-blowing crowd in Soccer City, the spectacular stadium between Johannesburg and Soweto, hundreds of African dancers in vivid greens, reds and yellows paraded onto the field for the opening ceremony of the monthlong tournament.

Most of the fans were in the yellow jerseys of Bafana Bafana with a few pockets of green - fans of Mexico.

The elation was tempered by news that Nelson Mandela, the revered anti-apartheid leader and former South African president, would not attend the game. The 91-year-old Mandela is frail, and decided not to come after his 13-year-old great-granddaughter was killed in a car crash on the way home from Thursday night's World Cup concert.

South African President Jacob Zuma, a scarf in national colors around his neck, told the crowd just before kickoff that he had a message from Mandela: "The game must start. You must enjoy the game."

Not everyone on Bafana Bafana thought the home advantage was distinct.

"The people who were making too much noise were the Mexicans, rather than hearing those vuvuzelas," goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune said. "It was more like a Mexico home game."

Uruguay 0, France 0=

The game between former champions produced an opening day dud, yet there was satisfaction expressed by each team for gaining a point.

"It is almost a beautiful 0-0," France coach Raymond Domenech said.

Even if some of the tournament's top stars - France's Franck Ribery and Uruguay's Diego Forlan - showed flashes, the fear of losing the opening game stifled both offenses.

The low point came when Uruguay's Nicolas Lodeiro was ejected after a wild challenge on Bacary Sagna in the 81st minute for his second yellow card. He will miss his team's game with South Africa on Wednesday.

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