Play It Again, Bafana Bafana

Of today’s two games, I was much more excited, at least soccer-wise, for the second match, France v. Uruguay. The opener, South Africa v Mexico, promised a load of hubbub and contagious sentiment, but I wasn’t expecting great on-field action. France, meanwhile, bursting with talent, was supposed to play an offensive style against a Uruguayan team poised to attack with speedy wing-backs and a pair of strikers, Diego Forlan and Luis Suarez, who score goals in their sleep. It was going to be a doozy.

What a fool I was. Never, ever count on France for entertainment (Insert pop music joke). Their game was a dreadful muddle, played at a snail’s pace. The only one of the field who seemed to want to speed things up was the scarred French winger Franck Ribery (I love to write “Franck”). He set up Sidney Govou early in the match for a tap-in goal, but Govou just isn’t very good. At least not lately. That was about it for the match. Some Uruguayan guy got a red card later, but did it matter? They were happy to defend. Even on the counter-attack, Forlan seemed to keep the reins on his teammates like a professional dog-walker in Central Park. Suarez meanwhile was usually off-sides, or tangling up the leashes. It ended 0-0, but it was worse than the score indicates.

What’s up with France? It’s fashionable to criticize their coach, Raymond Domenech. He is a not only a lame duck (he’ll be replaced after the tournament) but an odd duck. Domenech is sometimes too forthcoming, as when, directly after France was eliminated and embarrassed in Euro 2008, he responded by proposing to his girlfriend on national TV (She still resists). Or he is blasé, fiddling with his phone during press conferences and shrugging off concerns. He has been accused of picking players based on astrology. Perhaps, that’s why he left Florent Malouda out of today’s starting line-up.

Domenech’s defenders (if you can find any) point to his successes, notably in 2006 when France, looking listless in the early matches, went to the final only to be undone by a heabutt and penalties. Today, though, the French looked like they’d never played together. Uruguay gave them plenty of space, and they weren’t sure what to do with it. Who will tell them?

I’ve wasted a lot of ink on a horrible game, and will keep my comments on South Africa’s heroic 1-1 tie to a brief revelation: In the heat of Madiba, a South African restaurant in Brooklyn, I actually enjoyed the vuvuzela, the droning horn that opponents hate. I hate it in theory, I hate it on TV, but, I don’t know, maybe it was the Kenyan beer or the beautiful girls blowing it, but it was alright. Play it again.


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