Au revoir, Bafana

2010-06-23 00:00

IN the end Bafana Bafana came a lot closer to pulling off the miracle they needed to qualify for the World Cup’s second round than most thought they would.

Ultimately, though, yesterday’s 2-1 Group A victory over France was not quite enough for the South Africans to progress.

South Africa became the first host nation to exit the World Cup in the first round.

But Bafana ended the tournament with a win, on a high, and having overall made the country proud with a competitive performance as the first African World Cup hosts.

While the disappointment of not reaching the second round was palpable among the players and in the crowd after the game, there was also a sense of pride at what the 83rd-ranked national team had achieved in the World Cup.

Afterwards barely any supporters left the stadium as the players applauded a crowd who had loudly willed the team to victory.

The support behind Bafana will be among the lasting memories of the World Cup.

President Jacob Zuma met the players before the match and told them they had made the country proud.

And for a brief moment at half- time, Bafana’s near-impossible dream of reaching the second round even seemed possible.

France, a team who went into meltdown over the weekend with the sending-home of Nicolas Anelka and a training ground bust-up, were in disarray in the first half. Goals for South Africa by Bongani Khumalo and Katlego Mphela came either side of a red card for French player Yoann Gourcouff in the 26th minute.

With Uruguay 1-0 up against Mexico in Rustenburg, Bafana needed to score two more goals to reach the second round, which seemed possible against a France side in shambles. A further goal to Uruguay would have meant Bafana needed to score just once.

But the ninth-ranked French rallied in the second half and showed their class, and pulled a goal back by Florent Malouda, effectively ending South Africa’s hopes.

Uruguay (seven points) and Mexico (four points) progress from Group A. Bafana finished third on four points, with an inferior goal difference (-2) to the Mexicans (+1). France were last with one point.

Bafana began with a 1-1 draw against 17th-ranked Mexico at Soccer City before Wednesday’s 3-0 defeat against Uruguay in Pretoria made life difficult for the hosts.

Man of the match Mphela said the South Africans could hold their heads high.

“I’m not sad at all — I believe we gave our best today and showed the same spirit we showed against Mexico,” the striker said.

“We were a bit unfortunate that we missed a couple of chances, but a win is a win, especially in the World Cup. It’s history in the making.”

The victory was Parreira’s first with a team other than Brazil at a World Cup. The Brazilian won the tournament with his native country in 1994.

“I want to thank the country for giving me the opportunity of coaching a record sixth country to the World Cup. And having finished with a victory, I am extremely, extremely happy,” the coach said.

Parreira, who returned to South Africa in November to replace countryman Joel Santana, also thanked his players. He said the South Africans worked like Trojans in training camps in Brazil, Germany and at home to be competitive at the tournament.

“In the last nine months, it has been a tremendous effort by myself and by the players, who have all given 100 percent. I want to thank the players for the work they have done, which has resulted in us playing football at a very decent level.”

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