South Africans continue to fill bars and fan parks across their country today to watch World Cup matches, despite their teams’ emotional exit from the tournament yesterday.
South Africa’s national team – known as Bafana Bafana – beat highly rated France 2–1. But the victory wasn’t by a big enough margin to ensure South Africa’s progression to the next round, and it will go down in history as the first host team ever to be knocked out of the competition in its first round.
Nevertheless, South African fans are positive, describing the victory over the French Cockerels as one of the greatest ever African performances at the World Cup.
“We have beaten one of the top teams in the world. Not many teams in the world can say they beat France in an important World Cup game,” says Elphira Sikoe. “I am very, very happy about what happened … It made me more proudly South African. That was brilliant, I must say.”
An equally proud Bheki Mnguni told VOA, “[Bafana] played very well, and the French team was playing at their best.”
A still-smiling Collen Pelepa described the win as “a thrilling moment, to beat such a great European team. But the problem in the end was we needed too many goals to get to the next round, so we fell short.”
From shame to joy
These feelings are in stark contrast to the embarrassment South Africans felt last week after their team was crushed 3–0 by Uruguay.
“I cried; I literally cried … I was like so disappointed,” Sikoe recalls.
And South Africans remain baffled as to how their team could perform so well against France, which includes some of the best players in the world like striker Thierry Henry, and then completely melt down against Uruguay – which on paper is a far weaker team than the Cockerels.
“I think because of Bafana’s good result against Mexico [a 1–1 draw in the tournament’s opening match], the boys were a bit [too] relaxed [against Uruguay],” says Sikoe.
“Knowing that it was their last game [against France], that really, really pressured them to do us proud. Because they wanted to hold that trophy; they wanted to go to the next [round],” says Patricia Mncube.
South Africans not embarrassed
South Africans refuse to be humiliated by the fact that their team’s the first in World Cup history to fall at the first hurdle.
“Not at all!” shouts Sikoe. “Those teams which have to play [on in the tournament], we will still support them.”
“Even if we are the first host country to lose [at such an early stage], I don’t think we must be embarrassed. We must be proud, because we really, really stood [our] ground,” says Mncube emphatically.
“We mustn’t be embarrassed; we are very proud because we are the first country to host the World Cup, in Africa,” Nomvula Hleza says.
Mnguni adds, “It’s not an African cup, it’s the World Cup. Having the World Cup in South Africa, it is [still] profit for all of us. So it’s up to all Africans to support the tournament’s remaining teams, even if those teams are not from Africa.”
“We are still the World Cup host country and the first ever African host. We are doing a fantastic job and proving all our critics wrong who thought we could not do it. Why should we be bothered by some meaningless statistic,” Sikoe asks.
Pelepa says South Africans have “no need to feel ashamed” at leaving the World Cup without glory.
“After all, Cameroon and Nigeria, who are rated much higher than South Africa, are also going home. I think all this shows that Africa still has much to learn about World Cup football. Our time is not yet here,” he states.
Sammy Mazwai says the feeling in his heart is one of “victory over the odds” rather than “humiliating defeat.”
“We should celebrate victory over all the people who said foreign fans would be murdered here, and who said we could not build nice stadiums. South Africa is a winner because we have proved that Africa is a place or warmth and beauty,” he says, wiping a tear from his eye.
South Africans to support other teams now
South Africans say they’ll now support their second choice teams for World Cup triumph, with much backing for Argentina and Brazil.
Sikoe says Brazil will take the trophy, while Mncube insists it’ll be Argentina because she “loves” Argentine manager and former World Player of the Year Diego Maradona. “He’s a naughty boy, but charming as well!” she laughs.
Pelepa’s money is also on Argentina. “I just think they have too much firepower for the rest of the teams – especially [in the form of Lionel] Messi – he is the greatest player in the world right now, a magician,” he says.
But Hleza comments, “There’s no way any other teams are going to beat Brazil. The Brazilians have too much pedigree.”
The party continues
At previous tournaments, when other host countries have been knocked out of the World Cup, there’s been a significant waning of interest in the football in the host nation. But South Africans say this won’t happen in their country.
“As you can see on the streets of Johannesburg today, people are still wearing their football shirts, even their Bafana Bafana shirts. And we will continue to do so even until the last ball is kicked,” says Mncube.
South African fans say they will continue partying with all the foreign football supporters still in their country.
“Of course,” screams Pelepa. “Because this is our African moment and we still have to do it [party] here in Africa!”
Sikoe says she’ll continue going to fan parks, despite the fact that she’ll no longer be able to watch her beloved Bafana Bafana there. “I have been to a fan park here in Johannesburg to watch Spain, and I partied with Spanish fans …It was beautiful. I mean it wasn’t Bafana Bafana playing but I went there and it was magnificent, I must say,” she maintains.
Finally, Sikoe adds, “If the world thinks there’s been a party so far in South Africa, they’re wrong. Just watch us go now, now that the pressure is off us and we can really let our hair down!”