The vuvuzelas went quiet in South Africa last night.
The plastic horns that have droned on during soccer’s first World Cup on African soil were silenced as Uruguay, led by Diego Forlan’s two goals, crushed hosts South Africa 3-0 in its second Group A game.
Bafana Bafana, as the team is known in Zulu, now risks becoming the first host to fail to make the second stage in the quadrennial tournament’s 80-year history.
“We let our fans down,” midfielder Kagisho Dikgacoi said in an interview after the match at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria. “We played our hearts out but lost by three goals. I’m sure the supporters will still be with us.”
Uruguay tops Group A with four points after two games while South Africa has one. France and Mexico, which also have one point each, meet later today in Polokwane.
South African midfielder Steven Pienaar said the hosts need Mexico and France to tie. That will give South Africa a chance of making the next round if it beats 1998 champion France on June 22 and Mexico fails to beat Uruguay, champions in 1930 and 1950.
“We have to cross fingers tomorrow and hope for a draw and play a cup final against France,” Pienaar said in an interview.
The defeat is the first suffered by a host in the opening stage since Romania beat the U.S. 1-0 in 1994, and is the first time in World Cup history the home nation hasn’t won either of its opening two games.
“I think it was David against Goliath,” former Bafana Bafana captain, Lucas Radebe, said in an interview in Cape Town. “I think in terms of experience, the quality in the field of play, I think that’s what we lack. I think it showed last night. It brought back to reality what this tournament was all about.”
Fans started streaming from the ground after Forlan added to a 25th minute strike by converting a penalty with 10 minutes to go. The horns, which have been controversial because they can overpower stadium announcements and players’ attempts to communicate on the field, went silent.
The stadium was half empty by the time Alvaro Pereira completed the scoring in the last minute.
“The tournament’s not yet finished,” South African coach Carlos Alberto Parreira told a post-match press conference. “Whatever happens today the result will be decided in the final round, but of course the team is not happy.”
The country has come together around the team, with tens of thousands of South Africans lining the streets of Johannesburg to greet the team as it rode on an open-top bus.
By the end of last night’s game disconsolate fans fretted about the team’s limitations. Only North Korea, ranked at 105th, is rated lower than 83rd-placed South Africa in FIFA’s official standings.
“It’s bad man, it’s over,” said Lungani Zondi, a 41-year-old wearing a yellow team jersey, after he watched the match on a giant screen in the east-coast city of Durban. “We’re the host country, we were supposed to go through.”
“The whole county’s expectations are very high and they’re all expecting us to progress,” coach Parreira said. “If we don’t achieve that then the whole nation will be disappointed.”
Uruguay hasn’t made it beyond the opening stage since 1990. Forlan, 31, became the first player from his country to score in two World Cup’s since 1954.
“I always try to be the same in all the matches I play,” said Forlan, whose opening goal was a 30-yard drive. “Now we have to rest and try to be back to our best for the next game.”
South Africa’s attack couldn’t compare with the threat of Forlan and partner Luis Suarez. It was 70 minutes before Uruguayan goalkeeper Fernando Muslera stopped a shot on target. South Africa’s Katlego Mphela played as a lone striker and struggled to get ahead of a defense that had the joint-second best record in South American qualifying.
“I hope the other games are going to be like this one,” Muslera said. “I thought South Africa would be better, but I didn’t need to do anything” in the end.