South Africa

Marquez strikes late as El Tri draw

JOHANNESBURG — If every match of the 2010 World Cup is as thrilling as Friday’s opener, we’re in for a wild ride of a tournament.

The host South Africans, spurred on by deafening home support, took a second-half lead through Siphiwe Tshabalala and were 11 minutes from a shocking upset of Mexico. But El Tri rallied with a 79th-minute equalizer through Rafael Márquez to earn a 1-1 draw against a well-organized and prepared Bafana Bafana in front of 84,700 at Soccer City on Friday night.

Mexico had the better of scoring chances in the first half, but couldn’t put them away. South Africa didn’t back down despite near goals by Giovani dos Santos and Guillermo Franco, and showed some danger of their own. And Carlos Alberto Parreira’s men struck first on the counterattack not long after the restart.

In the 55th minute, striker Katlego Mphela fed a pretty through ball against the run of play to a streaking Tshabalala. The Kaizer Chiefs winger sprinted past Mexico defender Ricardo Osorio on the right and fired a rocket past keeper Óscar Pérez that found the upper right corner of the netting.

The strike sent Mexico into shock, and manager Javier Aguirre immediately changed up his attack. Andrés Guardado entered the game in the 57th minute for left back Paul Aguilar, Cuauhtémoc Blanco replaced Carlos Vela 12 minutes later and Javier “El Chicharito” Hernández came in for Franco in the 73rd.

The changes paid off. Guardado showed his usual dynamic flair on the left in the 79th minute, when he sent a cross in that trickled to the far post to a waiting Márquez. The former captain had time to settle and easily put the ball over a falling Itumeleng Khune.

Bafana Bafana didn’t quit, though, spurred on by their raucous home crowd. Mphala nearly gave South Africa the win in the 90th minute, slipping past two defenders, but his shot rebounded of the post.

The draw, however, will be a huge confidence-booster for the home side, who were under enormous pressure to produce against arguably the toughest opponent in Group A. South Africa next face Uruguay on June 16 in Pretoria.

For Mexico, the draw is a nice bit of salvation in a game that nearly got away from them. El Tri looked languid and disorganized at times despite what could have been a 2-0 halftime lead — they had a third opportunity called back when Carlos Vela was ruled offside in the 38th minute after beating Khune. Aguirre's men now have a tough tilt with France on June 17 at Polokwane.


South Africa: Khune, Gaxa, Mokoena, Tshabalala, Modise, Letsholonyane, Dikgacoi, Thwala (Masilela), Khumalo, Mphela, Pienaar (Parker).

Mexico: Pérez, Rodríguez, Osorio, Salcido, Aguilar (Guardado), Juárez, Márquez, Torrado, Franco (Hernández), dos Santos, Vela (Blanco).