Give us hope, Bafana

2010-06-22 00:00

THREE months of training camps aside, hope has been a key factor in Bafana Bafana’s World Cup campaign, and is again set to play a role in the team’s final Group A game against France at the Free State Stadium this afternoon.

The South Africans’ much-improved form in their World Cup warm-ups helped create hope among the fans, and the consequent wave of support behind the national team.

Bafana’s good start with a 1-1 draw in the opening game against Mexico at Soccer City added to this.

That hope was largely crushed by South Africa’s 3-0 defeat to Uruguay in Pretoria on Wednesday night, and further so by Mexico’s 2-0 defeat of France in Polokwane the following night, leaving Bafana an unlikely set of permutations to reach the following round.

Now, just a glimmer of the original anticipation the South Africans came into the tournament with has been resurrected by France’s spectacular self-implosion.

Much, though, depends on one of Uruguay or Mexico producing a thumping victory over the other in Rustenburg tonight.

Nicolas Anelka’s sending-home, the training ground bust-up between captain Patrice Evra and fitness trainer Robert Duverne, and Les Bleus’ refusal to train on Sunday could have two side-effects.

One could be that the French show up in Bloemfontein this afternoon a demoralised side under pressure and scorn from the media and public back home, and at odds with one another.

Another possibility is that France will come out determined to redeem themselves under the heightened global scrutiny.

Bafana, and the nation, will certainly hope for the former.

South Africa captain Aaron Mokoena pointed out that Bafana need to concentrate on their own game, rather than the ructions in the French camp.

“It’s important for us to regroup from Uruguay, focus on our task and to be ready for tomorrow’s game,” the Portsmouth defender said.

Bafana coach Carlos Alberto Parreira uncharacteristically deviated from a famously conservative approach, boldly declaring he will make five changes to the team that lost against Uruguay.

Two, goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune and midfielder Kagisho Dikgacoi, are enforced. With the emphasis on attack and scoring goals Surprise Moriri, Bernard Parker and Siyabonga Nomvete will come into the reckoning in support of Katlego Mphela — until now a lone striker.

Macbeth Sibaya or Thanduyise Khuboni are expected to replace Dikgacoi.

Parreira said he believes Uruguay and Mexico will not play for the draw that would ensure both sides’ progression.

“I’m sure the [Uruguay and Mexico] players will not make a deal. Maybe one of the two teams don’t want to play Argentina, and they’ll go for a win,” the coach said.

“Or they can decide that the rules are in their favour, and they don’t care who they play, so aim for a draw.

“It’s not our problem — our problem is to play for a win against France, and the rest is out of our hands.”

It seems fortunate a match of such desperation has ended up in Mangaung, where the fans are renowned for never giving up on local club side Bloemfontein Celtic, even when they are 4-0 down.

Mokoena said of the support Bafana have received in the last two months: “All I can say to the fans is they’ve been incredible.

“And I hope they will come in their numbers tomorrow and give us the support we need. We know Mangaung never gets disappointed and we’ll need that.”

Bafana are on one point with a -3 goal difference; Uruguay (+3 difference) and Mexico (+2) on four points.

One of Mexico or Uruguay need to win by a convincing margin to reduce the five- or six-goal difference, and Bafana must beat France, possibly by two or three goals, for the hosts to progress.

South Africa’s best chance might be second-placed Mexico — who have a high-octane, attacking approach — wanting to beat Uruguay to finish first and avoid a second round clash with on-form Argentina.

South Africans still hold some faint hope that a miracle might wait in store for Bafana.

But a morale-boosting win over France would at least restore the faith and smiles on South Africans’ faces that for the past few days have faded, and put the full-throttle party back into the World Cup.

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