If you want to touch euphoria, it existed at approximately 5:15 p.m. local time Saturday in Johannesburg, South Africa.
In the hours prior to that moment, the elation lay dormant, brewing among the 88,640 fans happily stuffed inside Soccer City; it was released, quite extraordinarily, off the left foot of South African striker Siphiwe Tshabalala.
On a breakaway, Tshabalala blasted the Jabulani – Adidas’ aerodynamically designed soccer ball – past the flailing arms of Mexico’s goalkeeper Oscar Perez and into the upper right corner of the goal.
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It was the first goal of the 2010 FIFA World Cup, and the host nation’s team had scored it in the 55th minute. For 25 glorious minutes afterward, South Africa seemed destined for a storybook beginning: victory over Mexico.
It wasn’t to be.
In the 79th minute, Mexico, which produced many good chances, scored the equalizer off the boot of Rafael Marquez.
The first match of the 2010 World Cup ended in a tie, 1-1.
The match was the grand finale of a day of celebration that was tempered only by the news of tragedy within the family of former South African president Nelson Mandela. Mandela’s 13-year-old great-granddaughter, Zenani, died in a car accident on Thursday night. Expected to attend Friday’s opening ceremonies and opening match, Mandela, a catalyst in bringing these games to his country, mourned with his family in private.
“We could easily have won the game,” said South Africa coach Carlos Alberto Parreira.
Mexico dominated the first half; South Africa seemed lucky to enter halftime in a scoreless draw.
“It was a great goal, very special for me,” Tshabalala said. “It was something of a present, because I was celebrating my 50th appearance (for the national team).”
France 0, Uruguay 0: Prior to the opening Group A match, French captain Patrice Evra had warned that Les Bleus would have to find a way around the South Americans’ “defensive wall” in Cape Town.
France’s misfiring attack failed comprehensively in this task.
After a promising opening period, during which time France looked lively, the match degenerated into a predictable pattern.
Uruguay let the French have the ball in the middle, but as soon as they got into the final third of the pitch, a swarm of pale blue shirts choked the life out of the attackers.
Franck Ribery, of whom so much was expected, was nullified. The talented Yoann Gourcuff was reduced to hopeful shots from a distance – although he nearly scored with a surprise free-kick from a ridiculously acute angle.
The introduction of supposed super sub Thierry Henry for Nicolas Anelka on 72 minutes changed nothing.
Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez summed it up when he said his defense “dominated them in our box.”