Mexico put France on the edge

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POLOKWANE, June 18 – France, the 1998 world champions and 2006 runners-up, were left teetering on the brink of World Cup first round elimination on Thursday when they slumped to a 2-0 defeat against Mexico.Veteran Cuauhtemoc Blanco converted a late penalty to clinch the victory after substitute striker, Manchester United-bound Javier Hernandez, had put the Central Americans ahead 64 minutes into the Group A showdown at Peter Mokaba Stadium.

Mexico’s first victory over France left them and Uruguay level on four points ahead of a June 22 Rustenburg clash and both will advance to the next round by drawing.

France play South Africa, who have a point each, at the same time in Bloemfontein and if either wins and the other game delivers a positive result, goal difference could come into play.

"We need a miracle now," said France coach Raymond Domenech. "We have to be strong and at least play for our honour. At least we must show something in the last match. When we are forced to rely on others, there’s nothing to say."

Chelsea star Florent Malouda added: "It’s up to us to save our honour. It’s a shame to lose like this. It’s hard to react, but we can’t go out of the World Cup without winning a match."

The fourth meeting of the countries in the history of the tournament kicked off in cold conditions before a large colourful crowd with each team making one change from their opening encounter last Friday.

Malouda replaced Yoann Gourcuff in the French line-up while defender Hector Morena came in for Paul Aguilar in the Mexico side.

Saudi Arabian referee Khalil al-Ghamdi stamped his imprint early with a fourth-minute caution for veteran Mexican striker Guillermo Franco amid much protest.

Mexico had a couple of early half chances that were not put away by Carlos Vela and Franco while a slick French free-kick manoeuvre fizzled out as Franck Ribery overhit a cross.

The Central Americans were more threatening as the halfway point of the opening half approached with a William Gallas block taking the sting out of a move and Carlos Salcido firing past goalkeeper Hugo Lloris only to miss the target.

It was Lloris versus Salcido again on 27 minutes with the French goalkeeper doing well to push away a hard, low drive after the Mexican cut in from the left flank helped by timid defending.

Mexico suffered a blow when Vela limped off to be replaced by Pablo Barrera, who put Lloris under pressure almost immediately from a cross that the goalkeeper unconvincingly punched away.

Midfielder Jeremy Toulalan joined Franco in the referee’s book during first-half stoppage time, ruling him out of the South Africa fixture as he was also cautioned against Uruguay.

Andre-Pierre Gignac replaced lone French striker Nicolas Anelka at half-time and the referee was the busiest man on the pitch as the second half unfolded, showing yellow cards to Mexicans Efrain Juarez and Morena.

Mexico broke the deadlock on 64 minutes when Hernandez raced on to a lobbed Rafael Marquez pass, rounded Lloris and calmly stroked the ball into the net.

Domenech, who gives way after this tournament to former star Laurent Blanc, stared emotion-less at the action as his side struggled to make an impact up front.

And his worst fears were realised after 79 minutes when Eric Abidal fouled Pablo Berrera and 37-year-old Blanco made a long run before placing a low spot kick wide of Lloris into the corner of the net.

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