JOHANNESBURG, June 11 – Hosts South Africa almost got a dream start to their World Cup finals campaign on Friday before being held to a 1-1 draw by Mexico in the opening match after Barcelona midfielder Rafael Marquez struck with a late equaliser for the Mexicans.South Africa had looked to be on course for a surprise win thanks to Siphiwe Tshabalala’s superb 55th minute strike but it was cancelled out by Marquez.
The hosts, though, went agonisingly close to regaining the lead in the Group A clash and taking the three points right at the death when striker Katlego Mphela hit the post after outpacing two defenders.
After a nervy opening half in front of 84,490 fans at Soccer City, South Africa finally found their rhythm to take the lead as Mexico failed to make their first-half domination count.
The Bafana Bafana were lucky to go into the half-time break at 0-0 after Mexico dominated the opening 45 minutes, but Carlos Vela’s 38th minute effort was ruled offside.
South Africa had a let off after just four minutes when Mexico captain Gerardo Torrado whipped in a cross which goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune fumbled into the path of Giovani Dos Santos, but his shot was blocked.
Galatasaray’s Dos Santos was a constant threat in the opening stages as the Mexicans attacked relentlessly.
Mexican midfielder Efrain Juarez was shown the tournament’s first yellow card on 18 minutes, but South African play-maker Steven Pienaar sent the free-kick sailing over the crossbar.
Bafana Bafana midfielder Kagisho Dikgacoi was then shown a yellow card for the hosts after fouling Dos Santos on 27 minutes, but Marquez fired the free-kick high.
After the break, a perfectly-timed through ball from Pienaar split the Mexican defence and put Tshabalala into acres of space for the Kaizer Chiefs’ star to slam home his shot giving Mexican goalkeeper Oscar Perez no chance.
With 20 minutes left, Mexico coach Javier Aguirre made some changes to push his side forward and they were rewarded with Marquez’s goal.
Marquez was left unmarked at the far post and he wasted no time in drilling his shot past Khune.
South Africa now face Uruguay in Pretoria on June 16, while Mexico take on France in Polokwane on June 17.
France and Uruguay meet each other later on Friday in Cape Town.