It was a mixed day for all four teams. Each had highs and lows to take from the game.
It was a delight to see South Africa play so well today. The country will be delighted with their players’ performance. The organization has now gone well, and whatever happens, the national team has acquitted itself well and played a good game. Bafana Bafana looked startled at the beginning of the game, almost looking like they don’t belong on this stage. Fortunately for them Mexico were very wasteful enough that they were let off. This gave them confidence and they grew into the game. They played well at the beginning of the second half and their well-deserved goal came from a superb counter-attacking move for which Carlos Alberto Parreira must take credit. And what a finish from the delightful Tshabalala. South Africa had several chances to get a second, and will be utterly disappointed not to have bagged the points.
Mexico have much to be disappointed about as well. They showed a real lack of edge to their game, and were very profligate in front of goal. They did not seem to play well together, and Vela and Dos Santos did not look like they were ready for this yet. Cauthemoc Blanco could not run, or even move, when he came on. How he was included in the squad is beyond me.
The France-Uruguay game was atrocious. This was a toxic Domenech team par excellence, and as expected, he failed to get the players to play well together. Rarely has a team been worth so much less than the sum of its parts. The players seemed like they were all playing out of position. Govou, Anelka and Toulalan were particularly terrible. This does not bode well for the French.
Uruguay, however, can draw some positives from this clash. They went into the game in the knowledge that the earlier draw means they would be in a good position if they just get a point. As was expected, they defended solidly and with physical tenacity, and hoped for their front duo to create a goal. The defense part of the plan worked well. Forlan and Suarez were energetic and came close, but couldn’t manage to score, particularly as they were always outnumbered. Had Uruguay decided to go for it a bit, I believe they could’ve won because the French team is not coherent enough to withstand regular pressure. But Tabarez was clearly happy with the point and chose to sit back trusting his defenders were more than capable of handling the pitiful French attack.
On a tactical note, it was a delight to see Uruguay contain France so well with a 3-5-2 formation. The long-standing criticism of 3-5-2 (see The Guardian’s Jonathan Wilson or ZonalMarking) is that it doesn’t work well against an attack of three players. France today practically played with three forwards (Ribery, Anelka, Govou) and yet never really threatened Uruguay’s back three. The full-backs did well tracking back. It remains to be seen, however, whether this plan would work well if Uruguay wanted to attack more. Uruguay’s attacks were floundering because there were no wingers in support of the strikers, and the midfielders were all sitting deep, leaving Forlan and Suarez isolated. The true test of Uruguay’s 3-5-2 will arrive when the full-backs and midfielders attack more; will that expose the defense or not?
So, overall, things are pretty matched in this group, and as I said in my preview, every team has a real chance of going through and of getting eliminated. The Uruguayans, however, will feel they have the advantage, and the South Africans will be more optimistic about their chances. The French, on the other hand… well… they have a lot of thinking to do.