France 1 South Africa 2

France: Lloris; Sagna, Squillaci, Gallas, Clichy; Diarra (Govou 82), Diaby, Gourcuff; Gignac (Malouda 46), Cisse (Henry 55), Ribery.

South Africa: Josephs; Ngcongca (Gaxa 55), Mokoena, Khumalo, Masilela; Pienaar, Sibaya, Khuboni (Modise 78), Tshabalala; Parker (Nomvethe 68), Mphela.

South Africa defeated a French team wracked with internal conflict 2-1 in Bloemfontein this afternoon but still missed out on qualification to the knock-out stages with Uruguay not beating Mexico by a scoreline large enough to alter the goal difference in their favour.

Two teams, polarised emotions

I was originally intending to do a thorough tactical analysis of this game, but in the end the finer details of what took place on the field were overshadowed by the intense emotions both teams engendered amongst their supporters.

Finishing an admirable campaign with a strong victory over the French, the South African public can be extremely proud of Carlos Alberto Parreira’s team, the Bafana Bafana having channeled their fanatical home support to play well above themselves throughout the group phase and emerge from the competition with a huge amount of credit.

France, on the other hand, head home having earned nothing but embarrassment and shame. Player strikes, rows and physical violence off the field have all toxically combined to produce a team seemingly incapable of playing anything approaching effective football.

There could not have been a moment that summed up this French campaign any better than Raymond Domenech refusing to shake Parreira’s hand at the final whistle. This was a squad totally devoid of class or integrity of any kind. Laurent Blanc has a serious job on his hands to rebuild this critically damaged group of players and reinvigorate a country completely disenchanted with its national team.

Wholesale changes

To take a cursory glance at the teams’ tactics and selections, Domenech dispensed with the 4-2-3-1 he had favoured in the first two group games, making six changes to his starting eleven – the most disruptive elements within the squad assumed to have been the players left out – and adopting a 4-3-3 formation with Djibril Cisse brought in as the centre-forward and Alou Diarra given both the captains armband as the role as the deepest midfielder.

South Africa persisted with their 4-4-2 system although Parreira, like Domenech, made a number of changes to personnel. Goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune and Kagisho Digkacoi were both suspended for the game and replaced by Moeneeb Josephs and Thanduyise Khuboni respectively. Bernard Parker, Anele Ngcongoa and Macbeth Sibaya were also handed starts with Siboniso Gaxa, Teko Modise and Reneilwe Letsholonyane making way.

Five minutes to change the game

Compared with their opening two games France made a positive start, Andre-Pierre Gignac and Franck Ribery looking lively on the flanks while Abou Diaby and Yoann Gourcuff linked well in midfield.

All too predictably, however, things unraveled for Les Bleus in the blink of an eye. All of the team’s good work going forward during the first 20 minutes were undone by some characteristically shambolic defending from Siphiwe Tshabalala’s corner, centre-half Bongani Khumalo stealing in completely unmarked to head the home side ahead.

Then, just five minutes later, Gourcuff was given a straight red card for a relatively innocuous aerial challenge on Sibaya which arguably deserved only a yellow at most. From then on the South Africans grew in confidence, outplaying their hapless opponents and deservedly taking a two-goal lead through Katlego Mphela shortly before the break.

Domenech introduced Thierry Henry, Sidney Govou and Florent Malouda during the second-half but to little avail, the Bafana Bafana continuing to create the better chances and make the French look as if it was they, not the home side, that was 74 places lower in the world rankings.

Malouda did pull a goal back with 20 minutes to go, but it was very much against the run of play and, if anything, ruined the occasion by finally killing off the faint hope South Africa still had of progressing to the last 16 at the expense of Mexico.

Eliminated but not humiliated

It will go on record that South Africa are the first host nation to ever be eliminated in the first round, but that is a statistic that doesn’t reflect just how well Parreira’s team have played over the last week and a half.

Never has a host nation gone into a tournament with as low a ranking as the South Africans and, with the odds stacked against them, the Bafana Bafana have lit up the tournament with some memorable moments.

From the singing in the tunnel before every game, to Tshabalala’s tremendous opening goal against Mexico and the free-flowing football they played today, Parreira’s squad have been a credit to themselves and their country and will look to progress from the sound foundation this tournament has given them. The future looks extremely positive for South African football.