South Africa hopes hang by a thread

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BLOEMFONTEIN, June 21 – South Africa face a French side in disarray on Tuesday as they battle to avoid the indignity of being the only host nation in history to crash out in the first round of a World Cup.The Bafana Bafana slumped to a 3-0 defeat against Uruguay in their second group game following an opening day draw with Mexico, leaving them rooted at the bottom of Group A with a single point and a minus-three goal difference.

France, finalists in 2006, have flopped in South Africa, suffering a miserable 2-0 reverse against Mexico following a goalless draw with Uruguay, with French coach Raymond Domenech admitting: "We need a miracle now."

The 1998 World Cup winners’ disastrous campaign has been plunged into chaos after the players Sunday refused to train in protest at the decision to send home star striker Nicolas Anelka.

The players released a statement protesting against the Chelsea striker’s exclusion from the squad for a foul-mouthed rant during the defeat to Mexico.

The players said they deplored the way the dressing room bust-up between Anelka and Domenech had been revealed by sports daily L’Equipe.

French Sports Minister Roselyne Bachelot was to hold crisis talks with the mutinous players and Domenech on Monday.

Amid the rancour in the French camp, even the host nation are not immune to claims of divisions.

Players from the eastern kwaZulu-Natal province are allegedly unhappy with what they consider to be underperforming ‘superstars’ from Johannesburg and Pretoria clubs.

Regardless of the team’s perilous situation, there is sure to be fervent support for the host nation at the Free State stadium but even if the Bafana Bafana or France win, it could prove to be irrelevant.

That is because if Mexico and Uruguay play out a draw in their match in Rustenburg, which takes place at the same time as the France-South Africa clash, the Latin American sides would progress.

But France and South Africa will take hope from the fact that Mexico and Uruguay will be keen to avoid facing the impressive Argentinians in the last 16 – the likely fate for the runners-up in group A.

South Africa coach Carlos Alberto Parreira said: "There is respect for the French, but we do not fear them. We want to play well and finish the competition in style by winning."

Everton midfielder Steven Pienaar said the South Africans had tried to put the pain of their 3-0 defeat behind them.

"It is normal for a professional footballer to be disappointed after losing a game, but you have to forget about it," he said.

Neil Tovey, captain of South Africa’s 1996 African Nations Cup-winning team, believes Parreira must abandon his cloak of caution and play two strikers.

"I am very disappointed with the efforts of Bafana so far. In the game against Mexico we played well in the second half and that was it. We have performed satisfactorily in one half of one game."

FIFA has dismissed fears that Mexico and Uruguay may conspire to draw in order qualify together for the last 16.

A similar scenario occurred in 1982 when Germany and Austria played out a dire goalless draw to squeeze out Algeria.

And at Euro 2004, the Swedes and Danes – another pair of neighbours – drew 2-2 to eliminate the furious Italians.

Domenech insists the conspiracy theory is irrelevant.

"I am not bothered about the others. We have to play and do our thing and the other match is not my problem."

KEY TO MATCH:

What happens between Mexico and Uruguay

South Africa and France go into their match in Bloemfontein knowing that their efforts to qualify for the knockout phase could be irrelevant if the Latin American teams draw in Rustenburg. South Africa and France must put that out of their minds and try to score as many goals as possible to boost their goal difference.

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