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South Africa tops France, but exits the World Cup

Steven Pienaar of South Africa urges his teammates

Steven Pienaar of South Africa urges his teammates on during a match against France. (June 22, 2010) Photo Credit: Getty Images

South Africa sure made Mexico sweat from a little more than 300 miles away, but in the end, became the first host country to stumble in the group stage despite a 2-1 win over France today in Bloemfontein, South Africa.

South Africa could tie Mexico in points with a win and a Mexico loss, but needed to make up five goals in the process. It came out firing and made up three of them quickly by taking a 2-0 halftime lead over France while Uruguay took a 1-0 lead over the Mexicans. The host nation, however, couldn't make up the other two goals and also allowed France's first goal of the tournament to virtually end its chances.

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Florent Malouda's 70th minute strike pretty much ended the party, though "Bafana Bafana" fought until the very end. For South Africa, Bongani Khumalo and Katlego Mphela accounted for the first-half goals.

Uruguay held on to its 1-0 lead -- on a goal from Luis Suarez -- and escaped the group without a loss, without a goal surrendered and seven points to earn a date with the second-place team from Group B. Nigeria, South Korea and Greece are fighting for that spot.

Mexico, despite the loss, finished second with four points and won the tiebreaker against South Africa with a goal differential of plus-1 to South Africa's minus-2. Mexico likely faces powerhouse Argentina in a rematch of their Round of 16 match from the 2006 World Cup.

In that memorable game, Maxi Rodriguez's stoppage time rocket provided the goal of the tournament and sent Mexico home in the Round of 16 for the fourth straight tournament. El Tri desperately wants a quarterfinal berth for the first time since 1986, but it won't be easy.

Aside from South Africa, France will go home after thoroughly embarrassing itself for two weeks. It was forced to play with 10 men against South Africa for most of the game after Yoann Gourcuff was given a red card in the 25th minute.

Group B will be decided with a pair of 2:30 p.m. games. Argentina takes on Greece and Nigeria takes on South Korea.

New York Sports