After South Africa and Mexico had served up a ding-dong tussle, concerns about the French morale were seen to be justified as they failed to build on an impressive start and let ten-man Uruguay escape with a draw. So all four teams in Group A sit on a point apiece, leaving things perfectly poised for the next round of fixtures when the hosts meet Uruguay on Wednesday and France and Mexico clash on Thursday.
Having looked forward to this day for quite some time, I wondered how I would get through the morning without the help of intoxicating liquor but ESPN Classic came up trumps by showing the full England v France game from the Spain'82 World Cup. Who could have guessed that within a few years England stars Terry Butcher, Ray Wilkins and Trevor Francis would have been playing for the Rangers? True to form, after England's 3-1 victory, Ron Greenwood's team was hailed as likely winners but, after topping their group, they fired blanks in the second round (0-0 v W.Germany, 0-0 v Spain) and were on their way home, while France got to the semi-finals and would surely have gone all the way to the final if not for Harald Schumacher's savage assault on Patrick Battiston. God, was that really 28 years ago? Suddenly I feel old. How many World Cups have I got left? Zzzzzzz.
I've never been a big fan of opening ceremonies. Too much non-fitba nonsense and too many long-winded speeches from jokers who are too fond of the sound of their own voice but, thankfully, the South Africans kept it to a minimum. A bit of singing and dancing, some bongo drummers and what looked like a Lambeg or two, then we had Bullshitter Blatter and South African President Jacob Zuma doing the official bit, with a poignant mention of the tragedy which hit the Mandela family on the eve of the big day. There is something not quite right about Nelson Mandela living the life he did and still surviving approaching 92, only to suffer the loss of a 13-year-old great-granddaughter.
Mexico started with a bit of the psychological stuff, having their pre-match huddle in the home side's half of the pitch. Look out for Lennon's louts trying the same trick next season, then claiming they were the first to do it. The mind games seemed to affect South Africa who looked a bit overawed at first and really should have been a goal down inside two minutes but, with keeper Khune on the deck after throwing himself at a Vela cross, defender Mokoena blocked Giovani's close range shot.
Once they settled down, Everton's Steven Pienaar emerged as South Africa's most influential player but he lacked support and his team had another lucky escape when Khune made a save from a point blank range effort from Franco, then Vela shot wide of goal when he should have hit the target. It looked like a Mexican goal was inevitable and they did have the ball in the net after 37 minutes but Vela's goal was disallowed for offside and, having initially looked like a dodgy hometown decision, it was good to see TV pictures prove the linesman right.
It was, however, South Africa who finished the first half on top and they had a glorious chance when Pienaar released Tshabalala on the left but Mphela just failed to get his head to an excellent cross. And Soccer City went bonkers nine minutes into the second half when a neat passing move again sent SiphiweTshabala clear on the left and he rifled a powerful left foot shot high into the net.
Having failed to be make it count when they were on top in the first half, the pressure was now on the Mexicans to turn things around and a good shot from Giovani forced an equally good save from Khune. The locals were now giving it big licks with their vuvuzelas but I reckon too much has been made of their effect on any game. I remember Big Daddy Blue and his pals going to Dortmund with the Rangers in 1966 and all they spoke about when they got home was the racket the Germans made with their klaxons. But it was no big deal and it didn't stop a ten-man Rangers team (Bobby Watson carried off, no subs) holding out for a 0-0 draw to knock the holders out of the Cup-Winners' Cup. Mind you, I don't want to find myself sitting close to somebody who thinks it might be a good idea to bring a vuvuzela into Ibrox, as if Kenny Scott would ever stand for such thing. Enjoying yourself at the fitba? Don't be daft!
South African celebrations were more than a wee bit premature. Twelve minutes from the end Rafael Marquez ventured upfield and, with the home defence unable to clear a slack short corner, the Barcelona man found himself unmarked at the back post where he collected the ball and steadied himself before firing in the equaliser. Suddenly a draw looked like an oh so predictable result. No host nation has ever lost the opening game and Mexico have never won their first fixture. A stick-on draw...I just wish I'd stuck a fiver on it! Mphela might have grabbed a late winner for the hosts but his shot smashed off the post. I suspect nobody was too unhappy with the result and both sides were sure to be paying close attention to the France v Uruguay game
Having seen their group rivals effectively do damage to each other, both France and Uruguay knew they could take a giant step towards qualification with victory in their opener and the French certainly made the more impressive start. Govou touched a Ribery cross wide from six yards, Diaby fired a long range effort over the top and Anelka was also too high with a powerful header. But France's Hugo Lloris was the first goalie called into serious action when he dived to save a shot from Forlan while, at the other end, Fernando Muslera did well to get a hand to a clever Gourcuff free-kick flighted in from wide on the left.
After the lively start, a bit of the spark went out of the game. France knocked he ball about quite well but, suspecting their opponents lacked a cutting edge, Uruguay were quite prepared to let them fanny about and the first half ended goalless. Commentator Steve Wilson sounded like a real killjoy when he reminded us that 25 years have passed since there last was a goal in a match between these nations and, as France continued to play a one-paced game, I began to fear the worst.
A free-kick from Diego Forlan forced a save from Lloris, then the keeper was dunted by Luis Suarez as Uruguay started to come more into it. The arrival of Thierry Henry for Anelka suggested France were ready to lift the pace of the game but it was Forlan who almost broke the deadlock with a low shot from a Suarez knock-down but the ball whistled just wide of the post. And they looked even more menacing when Florent Malouda replaced Gourcuff and within minutes of his introduction to the game he came close with a 22 yard shot.
Things took a distinct turn France's way when Uruguay were reduced to ten men by the first red card of the tourney. Substitute Nicholas Lodeiro, having been booked earlier, was shown a second yellow for clattering into Bacary Sagna and the remainder of the game was played out around the Uruguayan penalty box. Claims for a late hand ball in the box were waved away by the ref - and no doubt cheered by every bitter and twisted Oirishman on the planet - and when Henry wasted a late free-kick by firing it straight into the wall the French had wasted a glorious opportunity.
If Domenech had got his team to play with the urgency they showed in the first 15 minutes and the last 15 minutes they would surely be sitting on top of the group but the sloppy hour in the middle let Uruguay off the hook and also gave a lift to both South Africa and Mexico. This group is up in the air and all four sides will fancy their chances of progressing to the next round.
Tomorrow: Believe it or not, England v USA isn't the only game on the agenda. South Korea v Greece and Argentina v Nigeria should be well worth watching.