Bafana Bafana true love story

GARETH WHEELER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 5:46 PM ET

The worth of a proper World Cup host isn’t necessarily judged on points.

Before the start of this World Cup, many South Africans said not qualifying for the knockout stage would be a massive failure. But, in fairness, advancing from a difficult Group A was never going to be an easy task.

Now that Bafana Bafana’s World Cup adventure is over, it has to be said the journey was a complete, unmitigated success.

Becoming the first nation not to advance from the group stage in World Cup history sounds bad. It’s a label forever theirs.

Yet, it doesn’t seem to matter here at ground level. Less than a week after the country mourned a brutal 3-0 thrashing at the hands of Uruguay, Bafana Bafana went out on a high, dismissing an embarrassing French side, showing Les Bleus what a team is all about.

The contrast in attitude was plain to see in Bloemfontain. France’s dire and uninspired play was an insult to every country that didn’t qualify for the tournament. Participating in the event is a privilege earned, and not one to be thrown away so easily.

The French were a waste, and karma caught up with them.

On the flip side, South Africa should be proud of their ‘Boys, Boys’ for how they fought, going out in a proud, dignified way.

The fans up and down the Beach Festival in Durban were enjoying a colourful, passionate party, celebrating the Rainbow nation. The Fan Fest was raucous.

Joe Cool’s bar, the local hangout and popular party joint, they were on the edge of their seats, captivated by every touch of the ball. And when the goals came, a celebration like no other followed. It was almost an atmosphere of disbelief, that the unthinkable, unimaginable just might come true.

In the end, it was not to be.

Florent Malouda’s marker was the dagger. The team and the country will have to take solace it beat the finalists from the 2006 World Cup.

No matter the internal strife of the French squad. No matter the embarrassment of the coach. No matter the Yoann Gourcuff sending off.

It doesn’t diminish what the 83rd-ranked team in the world, deemed the worst team in the tournament months ago, accomplished.

South Africa played without its first-choice goalkeeper, Itumeleng Khune. Moneeb Joseph stepped up and had a game, like character players do in less than ideal situations. Khune was the team leader, on and off the field. That desire was plain to see, even without him in the proceedings.

Striker Katlego Mphela is now a household name. Steven Pienaar is still a star. And Siphiwe Tshabalala goes down in the history books.

After the final whistle, the scenes in Durban were not of despair, they were of joy. Satisfaction and smiles everywhere. The music played. And the people danced.

It wasn’t just party time; it was time for reflection. People talked about what went wrong in Pretoria against the South Americans. But, mostly, the talk was of pride. It was how the team had played with heart and captured the nation.

Alan, a 50-something white man from Durban, who had never watched a soccer game in his life before the World Cup, was enthralled. He was all about Bafana Bafana.

So was Yolande, a 20-something white woman from Cape Town. After the performance against France, she labeled the team “heroes”.

I mention skin colour only because it’s still a major issue in this country. The racial and cultural divide is real. Soccer was always been a ‘black’ sport in South Africa, with very few whites going to local games, or even watching.

But that’s not the case any more. All skin colours are on board. And any issues or tension was set aside for the past 12 days as the country stood united behind Bafana Bafana.

What, if anything, will change now that Bafana Bafana is out? And what about after July 13th?

Time will tell. Many people I speak to are cynical. But I have a hard time believing that. If something as simple as athletic competition can bring out the kind of pride and spirit of a nation as it has over the last fortnight, the sky is the limit.

Quality is determined by spirit and passion. This country had that. They were united. They were as one.

As a gracious visitor, I thank Bafana Bafana for their magical run while it lasted. The sights and scenes of celebration are ones I’ll carry forever.


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