Yesterday’s match between Bafana Bafana and France, held at the Free State Stadium in Bloemfontein was the most nailbiting of the entire World Cup so far – for me, anyway, but I think also for the entire nation.
During the course of Monday and Tuesday, I became aware of a buzz in the air, a mounting sense of anticipation and excitement, intermingled with a dash of anxiety and just a smidgeon of doubt.
Everywhere I went, I noticed the South African flag, stuck into car windows, painted on people’s cheeks, wrapped around the side-mirrors of cars, fluttering from radio aerials, draped over window ledges and balconies, displayed in shops. Yes, there were loads of other flags flying too, but for some reason, I really noticed our multi-coloured South African flag.
And I couldn’t help myself feeling an increasing patriotism and a deep longing that our Boys would make that miracle happen and get through to the next round. Cashiers in the shops and people I met on the street seemed to feeling the vibe too, as we expressed our shared desire that our team would WIN against France, AND with enough goals to make it into the second round. We desperately did not want to be the first ever host nation to be eliminated from the World Cup in the first round.
By the time the match itself started, I was already feeling quite tense. When the first 10 minutes went by uneventfully, with Bafana Bafana seeming (to me) to be fiddling about in their own half and nervous of placing any pressure on the French team, the tension mounted. I found myself shouting at the tv set, which was most uncharacteristic.
Then, an amazing thing happened: In the 20th minute, a corner from Siphiwe Tshabalala, wearing his characteristic pony-tail, sent the ball flying towards the goal, where Bongani Khumalo leaped over (and onto) a French defender to head the ball neatly into the back of the neat.
The stadium erupted into a roar of vuvuzelas, cheering and thundering applause! The only thing missing in our house was a vuvuzela, but we made up for it with our voices!!
Suddenly, there was more than just a glimmer of hope!
A couple of minutes later, during a leap for an incoming high ball in the South African box, Frenchman Yoan Gourcuff led with his elbow, which connected with the side of South Africa’s MacBeth Sibaya’s head, knocking him to the ground. Only a metre or two away, Djibril Cisse had collided with another South African player. When the referee stormed towards the players, holding up a red card, Cisse originally thought it had been meant for him, but it was in fact Gourcuff who was sent off the field.
The French team was thus left with 10 men.
Thirty-seven minutes into the match, in the midst of some chaotic scuffling in the French box, Katlego Mphela kept his cool to land another goal for our team!
The roar of the crowd, both in the stadium and at home, seemed to shake the ground! Would we be able to pull this off after all?!
A minute or so later, there was ALMOST a third goal for South Africa, when Bernard Parker finished a beautiful, clean run to the French goal by netting the ball – only to be ruled out for being offside.
At halftime, we had a cup of tea to settle our frayed nerves. Unfortunately for us, Uruguay had scored a goal against Mexico in the simultaneous match being held at Royal Bafokeng in Rustenburg, and were leading 1-0. This meant that South Africa had to get three more goals to ensure our place in the next road.
At the start of the second half, it seemed as if the wind had been taken out of Bafana Bafana’s sails. All the energy and excitement that had fuelled their game in the first half, especially after those two goals, seemed to have fizzled out. Although we were often in possession of the ball, and successfully clawed it back again and again from the opposition, our boys just couldn’t finish the race to the goal. It was so frustrating!
To make matters worse for our side, even though France were one man down, they appeared to have regrouped, and were fighting back bravely. One of the charges of Franck Ribery in the 70th minute led to Florent Malouda whipping in a goal for France!
And that’s how the scoreline stayed until the end, despite a few more close shaves and some upsetting misses. Both goalkeepers, Moeneeb Josephs for South Africa and Hugo Lloris for France, managed some spectacular saves throughout the match.
So, even though we beat France (well done, Team South Africa!), we are out of the World Cup. But at least we did not come last in our group, and at least we beat France, who (as Irish fans and supporters worldwide will never forget) should not have been here in the first place (because of that handball by Thierry Henry in the qualifying match between France and Ireland).
And that really is cause for celebration!
A friend sent me the stirring and patriotism-encouraging Powerpoint Presentation below, called “It does not matter that we did not qualify”.
Unfortunately, I can’t upload it in its *.pps format, because I don’t have a video upgrade on my blog, but I have tried to upload it as a *.pptx file. So you’ll need to download it first. When you open it in Powerpoint, click F5 to make the slideshow play with the accompanying music.
And now we’re gonna go watch the Germany – Ghana match at Mom’s, with our cheeks painted with the colours of the German flag and the South African flag.