Barring a miracle finish by either France or South Africa in the final Group A game, there was little more than seeding in the second round to be decided when Mexico and Uruguay met Tuesday in Rustenburg. But neither team took it easy, battling through a scoreless opening 30 minutes.
Uruguay had the first good scoring chance in the sixth minute when Mexican defender Hector Moreno went down trying to knock away a loose ball away, leaving Luis Suarez alone with Mexican goalkeeper Oscar Perez. But Suarez rushed the shot and it went wide of the far post.
Mexico immediately counterattacked, rushing the ball to Giovani Dos Santos, Mexico's most creative player in this World Cup. He put up a good cross from the right side, but Cuauhtemoc Blanco, a surprise starter playing on 37-year-old legs, couldn't get high enough to head the ball, which sailed untouched over the end line.
Four years ago, a younger Blanco would have netted the shot. This time, he fell to ground, spread-eagle in frustration.
Uruguay nearly broke through again a few minutes later after a hard tackle by Mexico's Guillermo Franco sent up a free kick. A crowd of Uruguayans charged the net for Diego Forlan's volley, but Perez, in a veteran move, rushed out to bat the ball away.
And then in the 22nd minute, a long shot by Mexico's Andres Guardado banged off the goalpost.
Royal Bafokeng Stadium was awash in a sea of green Tuesday, and the overwhelmingly pro-Mexico crowd saved its biggest applause for the surprise introduction of Blanco in El Tri's starting lineup.
Blanco, making his 11th appearance in a World Cup game and joining defender Rafael Marquez in tying the record for Cup appearances by a Mexican player, also wore the captain's armband against Uruguay, a fitting tribute given all that Blanco has meant to Mexican soccer over the last 15 years.
And Blanco nearly set up a score with a nice chip pass for Dos Santos in the 28th minute, but the Mexico midfielder, harassed by the Uruguayan defense, couldn't run the ball down before it rolled past the end line. A minute later, Dos Santos had the ball taken off his boot by another defender in the penalty area.
-- Kevin Baxter in Rustenburg, South Africa