Bafana Bafana’s twelfth man powerless to help

Khune sent off 76

Forlan 24, 80, A. Pereira 90+5

Everyone loves an underdog. Just this afternoon, although you would be hard pressed to find someone who isn’t fond of a Spain side that oozes class and technical ability, lots of the football-watching public found themselves rooting for the Swiss as they clung desperately to a 1-0 lead. Hence it is doubly sad that South Africa – both the World Cup’s host nation and rank outsiders in Group A – more than likely bowed out tonight with a convincing loss at the hands of Uruguay , despite ferocious support from their army of vuvuzela-wielding fans.

It had been a concern long before the tournament kicked off on the 11th June that South Africa might produce something of a meek display. Bafana Bafana have declined a long way since their heyday at the turn of the millennium, when they were arguably the shining light of African football, dropping to 83rd in the FIFA rankings (just behind Belarus and Jamiaca) and failing altogether to qualify for the 2010 African Cup of Nations. There is always the worry that if the host nation fails on the pitch, the whole competition could suffer, as local interest wanes and match attendances decline. But many remained hopeful that what Bafana Bafana lacked in class, they could make up for with a dogged fighting spirit and zealous support.

After their plucky 1-1 draw with Mexico on the World Cup’s opening day, many of South Africa’s fans dared to dream. Tonight’s fixture with Uruguay represented an opportunity for Bafana Bafana to build on a spirited start to the tournament, and take a small step towards the unlikely prospect of last-16 football. But it was not to be. Despite brilliant support and tens of thousands of vuvuzelas behind them, South Africa were deflated by a 24th minute strike from Diego Forlan that they never quite recovered from, eventually losing 3-0. It is a long way back now for the hosts, who find themselves propping up Group A.

This writer would love to be wrong – after all, who wouldn’t want to see Bafana Bafana give France a drubbing and storm into the last 16? – but all signs point to an early exit for Carlos Alberto Parreira’s side. It is a shame, because with the added cultural and historical context surrounding the country, South Africa are one of the most endearing host nations for a long time. It would have been fantastic for them celebrate an unlikely win on the 50th anniversary of the Soweto Uprising. It would have been even better for them to defy all the odds and qualify from a tough group as a unified nation after years of division and collective suffering.

However, it does not look like the fairytale will come true. South Africa had the support of an entire continent and every single neutral, but ultimately it wasn’t enough. For all the romance surrounding the beautiful game, the 12th man is powerless against the first XI. Ultimately, it is the players that count, and for all their heart, Bafana Bafana never had the class or the guile to perform on the highest stage.

South Africa – Khune – Gaxa, Masilela, Khumalo, Mokoena – Letsholonyane (Moiri 57), Dikgacoi, Pienaar (Josephs 79), Modise, Tshabalala – Mphela

Uruguay – Muslera – Lugano, Godin, Fucile (A. Fernandez 71), M. Pereira – Perez (Gargano 91), Arevalo, A. Pereira – Suarez, Forlan, Cavani (S. Fernandez 89)


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