Uruguay, Mexico surge to Round of 16

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Uruguay, Mexico surge to Round of 16

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Uruguay striker Luis Suarez, second from left, celebrates with teammates after scoring during their Group A match against Mexico on June 22 at Royal Bafokeng stadium in Rustenburg, South Africa. [AFP/YONHAP]


JOHANNESBURG - Uruguay and Mexico joined the Netherlands and Brazil in the final 16 of the World Cup on Tuesday, while host-nation South Africa and former champions France - whose tournament lurched from one crisis to another - bowed out.

A far-post Luis Suarez header off an Edinson Cavani cross earned Uruguay a 1-0 victory over Mexico in a top-of-the-table Group A clash in the northwest platinum town Rustenburg.

South Africa defeated 10-man France 2-1 in the central city of Bloemfontein with Bongani Khumalo and Katlego Mphela scoring in the first half, and Florent Malouda pulling one back. Uruguay, champions in 1930 and 1950, topped the standings with seven points, Mexico (plus-one goal difference) and South Africa (minus two) collected four each and France one.

The South American squad faces the Group B runner-up - Korea - in the first knockout phase this weekend, while Mexico is set to tackle Group B winners Argentina. This scenario will likely rekindle unhappy memories for the adventurous Mexicans as they lost in extra time to the Argentines at the same stage in Germany four years ago.

“We will have to improve. As for Argentina, we will have to work to reproduce the kind of form we showed in the match against France,” warned veteran Mexico and Barcelona defender Rafael Marquez.

Fears that Uruguay and Mexico would settle for a draw that would have assured both teams of places in the final 16 proved unfounded, and Mexican Andres Guardado was unlucky when his drive rebounded off the crossbar.

But the Uruguay team that revolves around Atletico Madrid striker Diego Forlan proved superior at Royal Bafokeng Stadium, and more clinical finishing would have brought a wider victory margin.

“The important thing was to win and finish top of the group,” said Forlan, the key figure in the three-goal demolition of South Africa last week.

Desperate to avoid becoming the first host nation to be eliminated in the first round, South Africa reshuffled its lineup and attacked from the opening kick against a French team showing six changes. Captain Patrick Evra was among those who were axed.

Defender Bongani Khumalo headed Bafana Bafana (The Boys) to an early lead 20 minutes into the match and striker Katlego Mphela added a second goal after midfielder Yoann Gourcuff was sent off for elbowing Macbeth Sibaya. But the team needing two more goals to overtake Mexico for the second spot conceded one with 20 minutes left when Franck Ribery set up Malouda, who exposed the defensive frailties of skipper Aaron Mokoena once again.

France, champions in 1998 and runners-up four years ago, secured just one point and scored only one goal in three games, with off-field controversies resulting in striker Nicolas Anelka being sent home. The Chelsea star unleashed an expletive-laden outburst when coach Raymond Domenech expressed unhappiness with his positional play against Mexico last week during a halftime team talk.

Domenech, who cut a forlorn figure in the Free State Stadium, now hands over the reins to Laurent Blanc, who missed the 1998 World Cup final victory over Brazil because he’d been suspended.

But Domenech didn’t go quietly, refusing to shake the hand of South Africa boss Carlos Alberto Parreira at the end of the game.

Parreira, who guided Brazil to the 1994 title, tried to explain the snub. “I believe it was because I had criticized his team after they qualified [following a disputed victory over Ireland], but I really don’t remember.

“This is what his assistants told me.”


AFP
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