Over the weekend, we found out which nations will be competing in the semi-finals of the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations. While Nigeria shocked favourites Cote d'Ivoire, the more significant result from a Jo'burg perspective was South Africa's penalty shoot-out defeat to Mali. Prior to the tournament, South Africa wasn't fancied to progress far. After all, they had failed to qualify for the 2010 and 2012 editions and were only in this one courtesy of being hosts. The form book wasn't favourable and coach Gordon Igesund had only been with the side for six months. Still, after a sluggish (and very boring) start against Cape Verde, signs of improvement were clearly visible in the win against Angola and the battling draw against Morocco. We learned that Dean Furman and Itemelung Khune should be playing at a higher level.
With Bafana's progression out of their group came the overenthusiastic, and sometimes wildly over-optimistic, dreams of grandeur and success that many football fans go through, no matter how irrational. Instead of apathy or a quiet acceptance of Bafana's "inevitable" exit from the group stage, a belief that Bafana could win it emerged, and with that came the comparisons of the Afcon-winning side of 1996. Maybe it was fate that South Africa should win it again on home soil? From nowhere, street vendors had started selling South African flags, which had clearly not been the case earlier in the tournament. Bafana shirts were more visible than before.
What encapsulated this was ticket sales for the semi-final in Durban, in which Bafana would have featured had they beaten Mali. The day before the Mali match, over 30,000 tickets had already been sold and a much larger crowd than in many of the previous games this tournament. A friend had persuaded me to get tickets for this game should Bafana qualify. Four hours before the quarter final, I headed to my local Spar to get these tickets. When I got to the front of the queue, I found out that the ticket machine only had 33 tickets left in it. It turns out that Spar do not hold spare reams of tickets in store but instead have to get someone from the ticketing company to load their machines for them. This supply wasn't going to last very long and the extremely flustered shop assistant was only going to get more fraught.
Worse still. When I asked for tickets for the Durban semi-final, they had all been sold out. Clearly, there were enough people with blind faith in Bafana that they were prepared to gamble on them progressing further. Spare a thought for these people. Mali versus Nigeria could be a great fixture but when you're banking on your team playing, it's going to be an anti-climax. I wonder how many will actually attend this game?? With Bafana out, the atmosphere is flat but hopefully the remaining matches can still be a celebration of the best of African football.
So, Bafana were subject to wildly unrealistic expectations and got knocked out on penalties. It's just like watching England play...