SOUTH AFRICA 2
Khumalo 20, Mphela 37
‘If only’ is the phrase that best sums up the hosts’ World Cup campaign, as the post denied them twice in crucial moments in this tournament that left them devastatingly close to qualifying from a group they were expected to struggle in.
How ironic then, the two chances missed fell to the same player, Katlego Mphela. The South Africa striker should have sealed a 2-1 victory in the opening game against Mexico but for the woodwork, which in hindsight would have seen the Africans progress to the last 16. The chance he missed in the victory over France would still have seen South Africa needing another goal to claim second place anyway, however, the momentum and the crowd could have pushed them forward in search of that last goal. As it is the hosts are out on goal difference, but it is closer than anyone really believed they would get.
Despite facing a troubled French team, the hosts should take great pride in beating the 1998 winners. They dominated in large parts of the game and gave a good account of themselves. Goals from Mphela and Bongani Khumalo gave South Africa a real chance of progressing and most nations around the world were cheering them on, desperate for the underdogs to secure a second-round berth. Florent Malouda’s tap-in crushed the dreams of an entire continent, but they can take great pride in what they have achieved. The Africans were only ever outplayed in one game, the 3-0 reverse to eventual group winners Uruguay. Unfortunately that drubbing has cost them, as they were in an up-hill battle to qualify, due to a weak goal-difference.
When this tournament is looked back on in the future, memories that will come out of it will undoubtedly be the hosts’ passion and enthusiasm. Despite not being given much of a chance, the players always played with smiles on their faces and sang together in the tunnel before games in a show of unity the French team would have benefited from. They never gave up hope of progressing and their performances have shown the world they were wrong to be underestimated. These are the types of performances which can be built upon, as the Africans look to qualify for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil and put in better performances in the Africa Cup of Nations tournaments.
The World Cup has lost a team that brought such joy to a nation, desperate to portray a different, more positive view of itself to the world. The hosts may be eliminated, but the passionate fans will continue to blow their Vuvuzelas and enjoy a carnival of football in this World Cup. South Africa are the first host nation to fail to make the knockout stages, but they didn’t disgrace themselves and can exit with their heads held high. Bafana Bafana left their mark that will live long in the memory.