Sec­ond chance for South Africa

The fu­ture is bright again for Bafana Bafana, so let’s not drop the ball, writes MARC STRY­DOM.

Weekend Witness - - Talking Sport -

THERE’S a mar­vel­lous clip cen­tred on Bon­gani Khu­malo on the web­site of New York TV news chan­nel WIVB that brings home the pride South Africans must be feel­ing for Bafana Bafana’s heroic vic­tory against France in Bloemfontein.

In fact it brings home more. It em­pha­sises the global na­ture of the tour­na­ment, and how many homes, from New York to Bei­jing, to Baghdad and Abid­jan, are wak­ing up in the morn­ing to daily news re­ports on their tele­vi­sion screens about what is pan­ning out to be per­haps the great­est World Cup ever.

The clip brings home Bafana Bafana’s new­found fame, and that South African foot­ball is now on the map. And also that now the coun­try is on the map.

Af­ter decades of mis­un­der­stand­ing, the world is dis­cov­er­ing and ask­ing ques­tions about South Africa, and Africa.

The com­men­tary on the clip drawls: “[Tues­day’s] Top Per­former from the World Cup. The host team, South Africa, bows out of tour­na­ment play. They did it in style though. That goal got it started — Bon­gani Khu­malo scored in the 20th minute; South Africa went on to beat France two to one. A header right there from Bon­gani Khu­malo. Not enough goals to ad­vance to the next round, but a good fin­ish for South Africa.

“You’ve heard of him be­fore?” the an­chor asks the sports­caster af­ter­wards, who replies, “At about 7.30 this morn­ing.”

Bloem … Bloem was beau­ti­ful. Bafana were beau­ti­ful. And heroic. And played some pretty de­cent foot­ball — per­haps their best game ever. Other stand-out per­for­mances were the 3-0 de­feat of Ghana in the 1996 African Cup of Na­tions semi-fi­nal, the sec­ond half of the 2-1 vic­tory over Zam­bia at El­lis Park in 1994 on the day of Nel­son Man­dela’s in­au­gu­ra­tion, and the un­der-23s’ 3-1 de­feat of Brazil at the Syd­ney Olympics.

Per­haps the best 45 min­utes Bafana played was in a goal­less first half of a friendly match against Ar­gentina in Buenos Aires un­der Philippe Troussier ahead of the 1998 World Cup, be­fore ca­pit­u­lat­ing to the goals of Gabriel Batis­tuta and Ariel Ortega af­ter the break.

But Bloem was just beau­ti­ful. The con­text of the game is part of the rea­son. Bafana just knew they had to win. The mood in South Africa would have col­lapsed if they didn’t. They had to re­ward the spec­tac­u­lar sup­port they had re­ceived. You could see on the play­ers’ faces, and in their de­ter­mi­na­tion and fo­cus, that they knew this. There wasn’t a shred of doubt. The play­ers are South Africans too — they knew how ev­ery one of us was feel­ing. And un­der this pres­sure they came through — against the ninth-ranked team in the world. What­ever dishar­mony ex­isted in the French team, they were still 11 world-class, big-name, top club-based play­ers.

Bafana didn’t make the sec­ond round and it is dis­ap­point­ing. But to have come so close — and in the end, ref­er­ee­ing de­ci­sions and goal­posts struck, it was pretty close — as an 83rd-ranked team against the 16th-, 17thand ninth-ranked sides in the world was a

PHOTO: AP

South Africa’s Bon­gani Khu­malo (top left) gets air­borne to score his now­le­gendary goal against France goal­keeper Hugo Lloris (right) dur­ing the World Cup group A soc­cer match at Free State Sta­dium in Bloemfontein on June 22.

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