South Africa in mourning

GARETH WHEELER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:55 AM ET

JOHANNESBURG -- Deflated.

There's no other way to describe South Africa. And I can tell you the moment it happened. It was 8:53 p.m. local time Wednesday night in Tshwane/Pretoria. Otherwise known as the 23rd minute, when Diego Forlan put Uruguay up 1-0 against South Africa.

At that moment, the life was taken out of the stadium. My ears went from buzzing to crystal clear. Two more Uruguay goals later and a country is in mourning.

It's heartbreaking as a visitor in this fine nation to see it's generous and passionate people so desolate about their team.

The vuvuzela is now blown with less enthusiasm. The smiles on the streets have turned to faces of discontent. The pep in the step of the Johannesburg populace is not quite the same.

People in the workplace or shopping malls or restaurants either can't stop talking about and debating what went wrong or refuse to talk about the 3-0 thrashing at all.

It may sound dramatic, but I assure you it's the truth. South Africans are still recovering from the devastating loss and are trying to deal with the reality that their World Cup adventure will most likely end after 90 more minutes of play.

It's a difficult pill to swallow for South Africans, especially after a strong tournament opener. Three points against Mexico would have sent the nation into hysteria.

Rafael Marquez 79th-minute equalizer kept things cool that day. But still, even with just the point to show, there was real belief among all South Africans their team wasn't that bad and could actually advance from the group stage.

It only took five days for that bubble to burst, and all us here in South Africa are worse off for it.

Soccer can be a cruel game. A Forlan wonder-strike and a red card and suspension to star goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune later, South Africa has little hope.

Bafana Bafana has to beat France by a considerable margin, and hope one of Uruguay or Mexico does the same to one another in the other match to advance.

The situation is bleak to say the least. It's so bleak that tournament organizers are urging fans to keep the World Cup spirit by picking another team to support. So much for believing in miracles! South Africans are realists. My driver Oupa told me this morning, "it's time for us to forget about the tournament." Just days ago, he was all too confident that Bafana Bafana would advance.

Delirium to depression, just like that.

This type of change of face is nothing new to South Africa. The country always supports and gets behind winners. Even with the beloved Springbok rugby side, when the wins are flowing, it doesn't get any better. But when they're losing, it's a matter of national crisis. No player, coach, or team member is spared. It's kind of like the way hockey is in Canada.

The soccer team, however, held a different kind of significance.

Soccer has always been a sport primarily supported by the black population. This wasn't the case during this World Cup run. The entire nation, no matter the skin colour, was behind the team.

And the fact nothing much was expected from the 83rd-ranked team in the world made the potential narrative that much more compelling. Locals I talk to insist winning would have meant so much for the country as a whole from a sociological, nationalistic perspective.

You have to remember this is a country just 16 years removed from apartheid. The kind of shared collective experience a long tournament run could have meant to South Africa would have trumped what a long tournament run would have meant to any other nation, even North Korea.

For all the pitfalls and financial concerns the country faces during and after the World Cup, South Africans should celebrate regardless Bafana Bafana. It's a celebration of what the country is and what it aspires to become.

So when South Africa takes to the field Tuesday in their predicted finale against France, raise a glass to a team that plays with pride and has captured the nation over a team with absolutely no pride whatsoever.


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