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South Africa salvage pride with 2-1 win over France as both exit

South Africa defeated 10-man France 2-1 on Tuesday but that still made them the first World Cup hosts to go out in the group stage and also sent home the shambolic Europeans as the ousted Domenech’s men lost their last match and dignity. Dhiman Sarkar reports.

sports Updated: Jun 23, 2010 02:28 IST
Dhiman Sarkar
Dhiman Sarkar
Hindustan Times

Evidently, the message of Total Support on Tuesday hadn't reached the powers that be up above. South Africa got the nation to rally behind its football team, Archbishop Desmond Tutu said he believed in miracles but, on the 24th anniversary of the goal Diego Maradona said he scored with divine intervention, the gods weren't with Bafana Bafana all the way.

Africa's first World Cup will now also be the only one where the home team went earliest through the exit door. For six years, South Africa has readied to host their biggest party. In a bid to get the country behind the World Cup, schools went on an unscheduled four-week winter break, people were encouraged to wear national team shirts on Fridays, learn the national anthem and a dance where you are a footballer with an imaginary ball.

When Bongani Khumalo headed home Siphiwe Tshabalala's corner-kick, it seemed South Africa coach Carlos Alberto Parreira's getting his team to read Michael Jordan's 'I can't Accept Not Trying', had worked. This wasn't the South Africa that looked rudderless against Uruguay. This was a team that wouldn't give up until it was over.

It helped that France, who dropped six players including captain Patrice Evra from the last game, fetched up with motivation having taken their leave. Hugo Lloris air-fisted the corner that led to the first goal and though he did pull off a few good saves, such as keeping out Katlego Mphela's 58th minute cannonball, it wasn't the start needed by a team riddled by dissent and driven by a coach with apparently quirky ways.

And then Yoann Gourcuff, one of the new sextet, was evicted for elbowing Macbeth Sibaeya, among the five new players Parreira used for this group A encounter. The roar at the media centre when Mphela scored, running behind Bakary Sagna to meet Tshabalala's pass, echoed the rest of the country. It got louder as reports of a Uruguay goal came in.

But Mphela thudded into the horizontal and Franck Ribery linked with Flourent Malouda to ensure that France's campaign, though soulless, wouldn't end goalless like in 2002. Malouda's late twisting run showed a snatch of what could have been for France.

“I am very proud of the boys,” said Parreira after ending a 42-year career as coach with South Africa's first-ever win against France. A win that'll serve as small consolation for a nation that will host the World Cup party for another 19 days.

For Domenech and his legionnaires, the end couldn't have been worse. After refusing to shake hands, he got into an animated discussion with Parreira. The image of two failed coaches, one angrier than the other, will be a recollection this World Cup could have done without.

First Published: Jun 22, 2010 21:58 IST