France threatened by early exit after failing to halt Mexican wave
GROUP A: FRANCE 0 MEXICO 2:MANCHESTER UNITED have not seen much of Javier Hernandez yet but the striker who will join them for the new season delighted the hordes of underdressed Mexican fans in chilly Polokwane by scoring the goal that set his side on the way to victory against a ragged France.
Hernandez came on as 55th-minute substitute and made the breakthrough nine minutes later, beating the offside trap by a matter of inches and leaving France looking at elimination.
A penalty from another substitute, the veteran Cuauhtemoc Blanco, made certain of victory 12 minutes from time, taking Mexico level with Uruguay at the top of Group A and leaving France and South Africa with a point each.
A point is all France deserve after two underwhelming displays, and though they could finish their group games with a victory over South Africa, the worry will be Mexico and Uruguay will draw to both progress.
Mexico began as if they meant business, showing much more attacking desire than in their opening game against South Africa and giving France a couple of scares in the first 10 minutes. Giovani dos Santos was in an offside position when he struck a post after only two minutes.
Carlos Vela managed to stay onside when Mexico came forward again, though after expertly gathering Rafael Marquez’ lofted pass, he shot early and high.
France weathered that storm and gradually pushed Mexico back. There was no one in the middle when Franck Ribery crossed invitingly from the right, and though Jeremy Toulalan sent over an even better centre a few minutes later Florent Malouda was unable to get on the end of it.
Carlos Salcido, Mexico’s impressive left back, brought the first real save from Hugo Lloris with a galloping run into the box and a shot directly at the goalkeeper, but the El Tri cause was not helped when Vela disappeared after just half an hour. He went down injured after no obvious contact with an opponent.
Little had been seen of Nicolas Anelka until he brought a routine save from Oscar Perez with a tame shot on the stroke of half-time, though he was indirectly involved in Toulalan collecting a caution in the last act of the first half that will put him out of the next game.
Anelka was hauled off at half-time, though Raymond Domenech chose to replace him with Andre-Pierre Gignac rather than Thierry Henry.
Malouda brought a save from Perez with a rising shot the goalkeeper tipped over, before Dos Santos wasted a couple of free-kicks at the other end by a distance that suggested the ball was to blame.
The look Javier Aguirre shot him from the bench on the second occasion suggested he might be wiser trying something more reliable next time.
That was rendered unnecessary by what happened next, with Hernandez taking advantage of a stupendously good linesman’s call to stay onside and put Mexico in front. The substitute passed backwards to Marquez then set off upfield for the return, which was timed to perfection and left Hernandez the relatively simple task of gathering in space, then rounding Lloris to score. The French appealed for offside, but the flag had stayed down, and replays showed Hernandez was onside, though by no more than a foot, when the ball was played.
France gave up without much of a fight, with neither Ribery nor Malouda succeeding in taking the ball past opponents, and another perplexing attacking substitution by Domenech failing to count.
Their off-night was summed up when Eric Abidal brought down Pablo Barrera for the penalty. The defender seemed to have time to pull out of the tackle when Barrera played the ball past him and drew the foul, but Abidal was either too tired or too resigned to be concerned.
Contact was made, the referee pointed to the spot, and Blanco found the bottom corner.
SUBSTITUTES: Barrera for Vela (31 mins), Hernandez for Juarez (55 mins), Blanco for Franco (62 mins).
SCORER: Hernandez 64, Blanco pen 79.
BOOKED: Franco, Juarez, Moreno, Rodriguez.
SUBSTITUTES: Gignac for Anelka (46 mins), Valbuena for Govou (69 mins).
BOOKED: Toulalan, Abidal
REFEREE: Khalil Al Ghamdi (Saudi Arabia)