So Bafana are out of the 2010 World Cup. It wasn't that surprising considering the task they'd left themselves after the 3-0 defeat to Uruguay last week. Beating the French by a handful of goals always seemed unlikely but Bafana surprised most people by actually BEATING THE FRENCH!!! Looking back now, there's a lot of "ifs". If only Katlego Mphela had scored rather than hitting the woodwork against Mexico. If only he'd done the same against France. If only they hadn't capitulated against Uruguay. But this is now in the past. Bafana are out and have the unfortunate honour of being the first host country knocked out in the first round. When the draw was made towards the end of last year, I was glued to my computer screen in my office, wearing my Bafana shirt, makarapa and had my vuvuzela close by. When the names were drawn, I was gutted. In a group with France, Uruguay and Mexico, surely Bafana would get no more than a couple of points. In the end they got 4 points and lost out on goal difference. Maybe some South Africans will be disappointed but they ended the campaign admirably. Ranked 83rd in the world, a draw versus Mexico and a win against former world champions France is a superb return.
Walking across Nelson Mandela Bridge
Walking down to the public viewing area in Newtown, central Jo'burg, the vuvuzelas were going, Bafana shirts were seemingly worn by every other person and flags were flying. Nelson Mandela Bridge was impressive with the massive banners portraying Madiba. As we were nearing Mary Fitzgerald Square, the sound of the vuvuzelas grew ever greater. After getting through security (again they didn't check the socks - another valuable chance to smuggle in alcohol wasted!), the area was busy but by no means full. What was great about this venue as opposed to the Soweto fan park was that it was not an official FIFA fan park but run by the city, therefore it was not bound by the same restrictions. I've moaned before about the sanitisation of the World Cup but here was a venue that embraced a cross-section of South Africa. Local beer, local food and local crafts, the many stalls that displayed such goods created a vibrant ambiance. Pap and vleis, boerewors rolls, makarapas, flags, football shirts and a giant figure made from Coca-Cola crates all added to a South African experience of which I have not had during this tournament.
Stalls at the viewing area
Looking at the Johannesburg CBD in the distance
If Bongani Khumalo's headed goal in the 20th minute was met by a cheering crowd, Yoann Gourcuff's red card for elbowing Bafana midfielder MacBeth Sibaya in the face and Katlego Mphela's bundled effort in the 37th was cause for jubilation. The improbable had become all too possible. The news came in that Uruguay were leading Mexico 1-0. More cheers. More vuvuzelas. More beer. The halftime run to the bar was chaotic as fans were singing, dancing and blowing their vuvuzelas. No longer was there just a forlorn hope but a belief that Bafana would defy the odds.
Intensely following the game
The crowd and the Coke man
But it wasn't to be. Mphela hit the crossbar, the side netting and forced a save from the French goalie but the goals Bafana needed were not forthcoming. The French had the audacity to kill the dream with Florent Malouda's 70th minute strike. The atmosphere temporarily flattened but once people had realised that beating the French was an achievement in itself, the party started.
Walking back across the now illuminated Nelson Mandela Bridge, it struck me just how much the tournament is going to miss these crazy Bafana fans. It's just so difficult to explain what it feels like to be in the middle of all this. It's incredible!
Back across the bridge