Johannesburg: European soccer powers Germany and England fight to stay in the World Cup on Wednesday after France went out in disgrace and South Africa became the first hosts to fall before the second round.
The first World Cup in Africa has so far been dismal for Europe with former champions France plumbing the depths after a demoralising player revolt that has shocked their nation.
To guarantee reaching the second round, Germany must beat Ghana on Wednesday, despite having their first choice striker Miroslav Klose suspended. England — whose under-achieving camp has at times seemed to almost rival the chaos among the French — need a win against tiny Slovenia or a high scoring draw if the other result goes their way.
Ghana will be fighting for what looks like the last African hope in the first edition of the tournament on its soil, which started with a record six teams from the continent.
Also on Wednesday, Australia need a big win against Serbia and for other results to go their way to get to the second round from Group D.
The United States play Algeria in the other Group C match. A win would be enough for the Americans to advance though a draw against the bottom-placed north Africans could also do it.
Argentina confirmed Latin American dominance on Tuesday night, finally breaking stubborn Greek resistance to eliminate another European side 2-0 and give Diego Maradona’s team a perfect first round record of three wins.
“The team is very solid, it’s in good shape,” Maradona said after his virtual reserve side dismissed the Greeks.
South Africa, always outsiders to qualify, held their heads high after their first triumph over a major soccer power when they beat former giants France 2-1.
“I am proud of the boys. They made this country proud. They proved that they have made progress,” said tearful Brazilian coach Carlos Alberto Parreira.
The hosts finished third on goal difference in Group A, after Mexico, who lost 1-0 to Uruguay. Former champions France, riven by dissent, finished bottom in the group and will return home to a storm of condemnation by public and politicians.
“The match was a catastrophe. We’re all in despair,” said French sports minister Roselyne Bachelot.
The French antics, where the players rebelled over the sending home of striker Nicolas Anelka for insulting the coach, caused one of the most extraordinary scandals at a World Cup.
With rebel leader and captain Patrice Evra left out of the team, France’s torment got even worse after 25 minutes against South Africa when Yoann Gourcuff was controversially sent off after a heading duel with MacBeth Sibaya in the goalmouth.
French media savaged Les Bleus unanimously.
“In 11 days of competition, Raymond Domenech’s gang has succeeded in becoming the laughing stock of the entire world, a mix of arrogance, incompetence, a lack of talent and professionalism,” said France Soir newspaper.
Uruguay’s 1-0 victory over Mexico in Rustenburg confirmed the dominance of South America. The brilliance of favourites Argentina, Brazil and even smaller Latin American teams has been in sharp contrast to the weak African and European performances.
England, packed with Premier League experience and seen before the tournament as contenders for a second World Cup after their win at home in 1966, seem demoralised on and off the pitch after two lacklustre draws.
Germany looked dominant in thrashing Australia 4-0 in their first match before going down to a shock 1-0 defeat by Serbia.
South Africa’s elimination may quieten the vuvuzelas a little but the nation is proud of the achievements of its underdog team and even more of its success in organising a successful tournament, despite years of gloomy predictions from critics that it would be a disaster.
“We might have lost the game but we’re still winning because we’re hosting the World Cup,” said trainee pilot Katiya Mongezi, pausing for breath from blowing his vuvuzela during celebrations in Johannesburg’s ritzy Sandton district.