Monday, November 29, 1999

South African dream turns to despondency

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The vuvuzelas finally died down and South Africa's elation turned to despondency after a disastrous defeat by Uruguay, as attention turned on Thursday to another appearance by the magical Lionel Messi.South African optimism over avoiding the ignominy of being the first host nation eliminated in the first round was badly dented by a 3-0 drubbing on Wednesday night which gives them only an unlikely chance of qualifying -- depending on what one commentator called a "fairytale" sequence of other results.Argentina meet South Korea, highlighting World Player of the Year Messi, who has shown rare brilliance in a tournament so far lacking much excitement and a worrying shortage of goals.In Thursday's other two games, France need their misfiring strikers to finally show their worth against the neat-passing Mexicans while one of Africa's main hopes, Nigeria, hope to revive their continent's hopes against a weak Greek side.Only a major upset win against 1998 winners and 2006 runners-up France, plus other favourable results, can get South Africa through to the second round."The sangomas (witch doctors) did not work," one woman screamed in the crowd in Pretoria after the local Bafana Bafana side misfired in midfield and showed no punch in attack to end an unbeaten run of 13 matches. Many fans left early, their vuvuzelas tucked under their arms.There was another reminder of the passion aroused by the "beautiful game" when police had to use tear gas and water cannons to subdue fans in Chile celebrating their first World Cup win in half a century, against Honduras on Wednesday.Argentina's erratic coach Diego Maradona is to relive an old rivalry when the stylish South Americans take on a South Korea side led by the man who tried, unsuccessfully to suppress his playing genius during a 1986 World Cup encounter.Coach Huh Jung-moo was assigned to block Maradona when Argentina met South Korea at the start of the 1986 World Cup in Mexico. He failed, the Maradona-inspired Argentina team winning that game 3-1 en route to lifting the trophy.ASIANS NO WALKOVERThe South Koreans will be no walkover against the Argentines, however, after a clinical 2-0 opening win over Greece.Cautious play and low scores have characterised the 32 teams' first games of the tournament. Fans are desperate for more goals as sides go for the points they need to reach the last 16 of Africa's first World Cup.Whether it has been the altitude, winter temperatures, new Jalubani ball or the cacophony of vuvuzelas affecting teams, only 28 goals have been scored in 17 games. That average of 1.65 is well below the previous lowest of 2.21 at Italy 1990.Big names from Cristiano Ronaldo to Wayne Rooney are yet to score although Messi showed his mesmerising skills against Nigeria in their opening game where only superb goalkeeping by Vincent Enyeama kept the score down to 1-0.Apart from Uruguay, Germany are the only team to have scored more than twice, in a 4-0 demolition of Australia.Switzerland scored the tournament's biggest upset so far with a 1-0 defeat of previous favourite Spain on Wednesday.After that shock, Brazil were installed as favourites to win, followed by Spain and Argentina, then England, Netherlands and Germany, according to British bookmakers Ladbrokes.Off the field, labour unions are threatening to embarrass the South African government by interrupting power, transport and security operations if their wage demands are not met. Police have had to take over security at four stadiums.Hooliganism has been avoided however, with various potential troublemakers from England blocked from entering, and another 17 "undesirable" Argentines deported on Wednesday.South Africa's glowing pride will not disappear even if Bafana Bafana are eliminated. They have so far earned huge kudos by successfully staging Africa's first World Cup, confounding pessimists at home and abroad who predicted for years that it would be a disaster scarred by major crime.(Reporting by Reuters World Cup team, editing by Ossian Shine)(Writing by Barry Moody and Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Ossian Shine)
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