An opportunity to seize the initiative in Group A was missed at Cape Town’s Green Point Stadium as France and ten-man Uruguay served up a drab goalless draw. The earlier stalemate between South Africa and Mexico had presented their section rivals with the chance to claim top spot, but neither did enough to secure three points in a scrappy encounter in which Nicolas Lodeiro picked up the tournament’s first red card.
France’s difficulties at UEFA EURO 2008 and during FIFA World Cup qualifying have enabled them to sneak almost unnoticed into this competition, yet they reminded everyone of their considerable potential with some slick early play. Predictably, Frank Ribery was at the heart of the best of their attacking forays, and only Sidney Govou will know how he failed to convert the Bayern Munich winger’s inviting low cross after eight minutes. Ribery looked to have laid on a certain goal, with Govou inside the six-yard box when the ball arrived, but the Lyon player’s right-foot attempt lacked conviction and the ball trickled wide of the far post. It made French fans wonder what Thierry Henry would have done with that cross had he been picked in the starting eleven.
Les Bleus remained in the ascendancy, and Nicolas Anelka — who endured a frustrating evening — might have done better than head over from an intelligently weighted Yoann Gourcuff cross. The presence of Diego Forlan ensured that Raymond Domenech’s side were never able to rest easy, though, and the Atletico Madrid striker underlined his capabilities on 16 minutes with an effort out of nothing. Stepping inside from the left beyond William Gallas, Forlan unleashed a powerful right-foot drive that was heading for the net before Hugo Lloris got across to make a fine save.
Nonetheless, this was an isolated moment of concern for a French side who remained firmly in control, with Abou Diaby dictating the midfield pace. Gourcuff was also impressing, and with 18 minutes played he forced an alert save from Fernando Muslera with an audacious free-kick attempt on goal, inches from the left touchline. The game fell into something of a lull as half-time approached, but the tempo picked up again after the break, with Forlan blasting over after sneaking in between Gallas and Bacary Sagna. There was precious little penetration, however, and the growing frustration was summed up 12 minutes. Jeremy Toulalan is not known for his goal scoring abilities, yet the anchoring midfielder chanced his arm with the Jabulani from 40 yards. Though his skimming shot seemed to move dangerously, keeper Muslera held well.
The South Americans would have a golden chance to snatch the opening goal when a cross dropped invitingly to Forlan on the penalty spot, but the normally unerring striker snatched his shot wide.
By this stage of the game, Domenech had begun to shuffle his pack. Thierry Henry had replaced the ultimately ineffective Anelka, while the disappointing Gourcuff was withdrawn to make room for Florent Malouda, whose first meaningful contribution was to send a shot from distance a foot by the post.
With ten minutes remaining, Nicolas Lodeiro, who himself was only brought on from the bench, was shown a second yellow card for a late, high challenge on Bacary Sagna, handing the initiative to the Europeans.
Inevitably France pushed players forward, with Uruguay happy to sit back in numbers and cling on for a point. Henry, ironically, had a strong handball shot in the closing stages as he tried to scramble home; the irony being that it was Henry’s goal scored from his hand which led to France’s qualification in this world cup at the expense of Ireland. However, the referee waved play on and Uruguay grimly hung on for a point which throws Group A wide open as all four teams have a point each.
photo: AP, source: fifa.com and goal.com