Friday June 11th, 2010

Three thoughts after South Africa's 1-1 draw with Mexico on Friday in the Group A opener:

1. Mexico's Carlos Vela WAS offsides in the first half. In the 38th minute, a corner kick was redirected to Vela at the back post. The Mexican winger casually tapped the ball into the net for what appeared to be the game's opening goal, but the linesman flagged him. At first glance, it looked like Steven Pienaar, who was standing at the opposite post, kept Vela onside. But the rule is that two players must be behind the ball and Vela was behind South African goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune, who had rushed out to make a play on the initial corner.

2. South Africa' s back line looked shaky. In the first half, the host's back four turned the ball over and lost their shape too often. They improved after halftime, but then a miscommunication led to Mexico's tying goal in the 79th minute. South African captain Aaron Mokoena kept four Mexican players onside, and Mexico's Rafa Marquez easily slotted home the tying goal. Perhaps it was a deserved goal given what had transpired in the first half, but Mokoena's blunder was one of too many for Bafana Bafana on defense.

3. Siphiwe Tshabalala, not Steven Pienaar, was South Africa's best player. It was expected that Pienaar, the Everton star, would be South Africa's offensive cog. He started the game as a withdrawn striker but rarely saw the ball and eventually moved out wide, where he plays for Everton. His influence on the game from there was minimal. Tshabalala, meanwhile, not only scored the game's first goal, a left-footed smash in the 55th minute, but his defense against Mexico's left flank was stellar. If South Africa is to avoid being the first host nation not to advance out of group, Pienaar will have to be more effective, but Tshabalala's performance was a plus.

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