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