Vuvuzelas silent as Forlan bursts Bafana bubble
South Africa 0
AT 10.09pm local time last night, this World Cup died a little.
With a clinical flick of his right boot, Diego Forlan dispatched the penalty that broke the resistance of the vuvuzelas. For the first time in six days, we experienced something close to silence.
Crestfallen Bafana Bafana fans streamed out the exits. Their pride and joy were two goals behind, and a man down. Swiss referee Massimo Busacca was left with no other option but to send off goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune for the clip on Luis Suarez, which resulted in the awarding of the decisive spot kick that put Uruguay out of sight.
It wasn't supposed to be like this. World Cup fever had hit new heights, but the South Americans produced a calm performance to prick the balloon. The hosts froze. This loss means they must take all three points from their clash with France next Tuesday, and pray for a miracle elsewhere.
Carlos Alberto Parreira launched an impassioned criticism of the match officials afterwards; there were shouts for offside before Suarez was fouled, while Busacca's display enraged the Brazilian. "He's the worst we've seen in this competition," he said. "I wish we don't see him again."
Alas, the protests rang hollow, smacking of a diversion from his side's shortcomings. "I laugh at the suggestion that we won this game because of the referee," said his opposite number, Oscar Tabarez. "I think we dominated throughout."
He was right. The limitations of the local heroes were all too obvious. As a regrettable consequence, this encounter failed to match the spine-tingling build-up.
The atmosphere was always going to be electric, yet the clash with Youth Day made it all the more special.
It was 34 years ago yesterday that Soweto students rose against the apartheid government, with hundreds perishing in the bloody riots. They reckon that without Youth Day, the World Cup would never have made it here, and they're not indulging in hyperbole when they say it.
Until regime change in 1994, millions of South Africans would skip work or college on June 16 as a form of protest; it was quickly declared a public holiday when the old, racist authorities were replaced.
From early morning, the mood was one of celebration. "This is it, boys," declared one newspaper, summing up the expectancy.
Similar messages were emblazoned on the newspaper stands that littered the drive to Pretoria -- the administrative capital of this country, a place at the opposite end of the scale to Soweto in terms of its racial make-up.
Along the 57-mile journey, every junction was packed with street traders offering national flags and other memorabilia. Outside the ground, home fans scrambled around looking for tickets, with the 51,000 capacity of the Loftus Versfeld Stadium nowhere close to meeting demand even though, frustratingly for those locked out, there were small blocks of seats free in a few unusual places. Someone must have given them to Robbie Earle.
What this venue lacks in size, it supplies in atmosphere and intensity. An hour before kick-off, the stadium was close to full with the two dozen or so Uruguay flags dotted around the ground in a sea of yellow and green that was almost complete when Parreira's side arrived out to begin the warm-up.
Tabarez stood pensively on the sideline, surrounded by a wall of noise.
"I told the players that history would be written during the game and not before it," he revealed afterwards.
The teams were led out by a group that included girls from the uSindiso Ministries, a shelter in Johannesburg that provides refuge for abused and homeless women and children. Among the many dignitaries present were the South African rugby team, with proceedings kicking off in a manner they would relate with.
Steven Pienaar was booked for using his hands to charge down a Forlan free-kick. The tempo dropped, with Uruguay in control. Tabarez's introduction of an extra striker, Edinson Cavani, was effective as it allowed Forlan to drop deeper and create.
Inevitably, the Atletico Madrid star provided the opening goal, although the speculative strike took a wicked deflection off Aaron Mokoena before looping over Khune. For the first time in the competition, you could hear a pin drop.
Ten or 15 seconds passed before the vuvuzelas sprang back into life. It took longer for the Bafana Bafana to do so. Lone front man Katlego Mphela was isolated, and the first half passed by without any scare for Uruguayan goalkeeper Fernando Muslera.
He was equally untroubled after the resumption, with the serious goalmouth action focused on the other end. The yellow shirts attempted to press, yet Uruguay had been guilty of profligacy before the foul by Khune and the stylish conversion by Forlan.
There would be no fairytale comeback. In time added on, Alvaro Pereira slipped in unnoticed to add a third and increase the desolation.
A competition that required an injection of goals could have done without the Bafana Bafana being on the receiving end.
South Africa -- Khune, Gaxa, Mokoena, Khumalo, Tshabalala, Dikgacoi, Letsholonyane (Moriri 57), Modise; Pienaar (Josephs 77); Mphela.
Uruguay -- Muslera, M Pereira, Lugano, Godin, Fucile (A Fernandez 71); Arevalo, Perez (Gargano 89), A Pereira; Suarez, Forlan, Cavani (S Fernandez 88).
Ref -- M Busacca (Switzerland).