My writing has largely been about Nigeria’s matches at the World Cup. In my preoccupation (and depression!) with Nigeria, I’ve neglected to inform you about my other (largely positive) experiences in South Africa. I attended the FIFA fanfest in Durban this week to watch the South Africa -v- France match. To be honest watching that game with South Africans was more like watching a music concert than watching a football match.
Venue: Durban’s “Golden Mile”
Durban is a lovely city right by the Indian ocean. The weather is warm, sunny and bright, but overwhelmingly hot. It is very comfortable. In the days leading up to the France game, most South Africans I spoke to in the days leading up to the game were very apprehensive and thought they had no chance against France. No amount of telling me telling them that sporting upsets occur often could lift their pessimism. They had largely accepted that their World Cup was over and that France would demolish them. Their reasons for pessimism were apparent. France’s team is loaded with world class players: Thierry Henry, Franck Ribery, Patrice Evra, Yoann Gourcouff, Florent Malouda, William Gallas….
A Nation Behind “Bafana Bafana”
For several hours before the game, radio and TV stations broadcast wall to wall build up of the game. Downtown on Victoria Street all the shoppers I saw were wearing the Green and Yellow shirts of Bafana Bafana. The nation seemed to grind to a halt. Everyone I spoke to was making plans to leave work early to watch the game. For several hours, the soundstage on the Durban beach blasted out loud music and PA announcements to pump up South Africans. The noise was audible from my hotel room and could be heard for several blocks around Durban’s “Golden Mile” beach area.
Entrance into the FIFA fanfest was easy. Security was tight but friendly as always. My bag was searched but without aggression, rudeness or making you feel like a criminal (*American customs, immigration and security officials please take note – again). I got to the venue an hour before kick off and already thousands of people were inside. I was struck by how young the fans were and how many women were in the crowd. The women outnumbered the men. Most were young (16-25) and danced, sang and cheered there way into the arena. An hour before kick off most people had taken up their seats, and had food, water and Coke ready. Those that could not find seats stood on the beach, stood on staircases or found any vantage point from where they could watch the action. I could no longer see the beach sand because it was completely covered by the feet of thousands of people, nor could I even see the sea as that was blocked by a mass of human heads, bodies and legs. I took photos by holding my camera as high as possible and taking snaps above everyone’s head.
Apartheid: Past and Present
Luckily I managed to find a seat on the steps of the fanfest and planted myself in between a group of giggling happy young women and two old ladies sat to my right. I looked at those two old ladies and thought that they must have lived most of their lives under Apartheid. One of them had burn scars on her face and arm. I thought she must also have had internal emotional scars from Apartheid. They were a far contrast from the giggling energetic young women around me. Some of whom were born either after Apartheid, or were too young to remember it. Past and present sitting side by side.
The crowd itself was very cosmopolitan with whites, blacks, Indians, and fans from other African countries present. Nigerians were recognisable in their green and white wigs and face paint. They were there to watch before heading to Nigeria’s match with South Korea later that night.
The Most Beautiful National Anthem in the World
Before the game started, South Africans respectfully sat down and silently observed the French national anthem. However it was a different story for the South African anthem. All the South Africans sprang to their feet. The national anthem Nkosi sikeleli Afrika was sung with passion and gusto. A young lady to my left sternly looked at me as I continued sitting down when all the South Africans around me (white, black and Indian) rose to their feet to sing the anthem. She was almost telling me with her stare: “how dare you sit down during the national anthem?” It was an almost spiritual experience. The anthem was sung beautifully in tune, rhythmically – all races singing a Zulu song with real conviction. In retrospect, I regretted not standing up and singing it with them.
I was expecting France to annihilate South Africa, but was too polite to tell my South African hosts. When Bongani Khumalo rose to head home a corner inside the first 10 minutes I was stunned. I muttered “I don’t believe this”. Everyone rose to their feet. The roar of the fans celebrating was ear piercing.
I still thought France had enough quality to come back. I looked down to check my camera for a few seconds and as I did, I suddenly head a roar and saw the ref produce a red card. I could not figure out what happened. I Djibril Cisse looked crestfallen and started trudging off. The South African fans roared with delight and started waving Cisse goodbye. Then Yoann Gourcouff started walking off the pitch. The replay clarified the confusion….Gourcouff had been sent off for going up for a header with his elbow leading. The big screen flashed a shot of French coach Raymond Domenech holding his head in his hands. His world was falling apart. To be honest, Domenech is a very lucky man to have a job, given how bad some of his results have been over the past few years with such a talented team. When the Gourcouff red card was confirmed, South African fans cheered again and this time waved bye bye to Gourcouff.
On the Verge of a Miracle
Still in the first half and Katlego Mphela increased South Africa’s lead. 2-0 to the hosts. It was pandemonium. People were cheering, dancing, high fiving, embracing. Young guys took advantage of everyone’s delight by sneaking in a few hugs with the three busty young women behind me. I’ve never seen women with breasts that large. Anyway, I digress….
I shouted “its over” and knew even France could not overcome a 0-2 deficit against the home team with 10 men. As everyone was still celebrating the second goal, South Africa scored again. THREE-NIL to South Africa! People were now on the edge of joyous madness. The two old ladies to my right were screaming like mad people. It took fans over a minute to realise that the goal had been disallowed. Several thousand people continued singing, dancing and cheering despite my continued shouts of “it was offside”. They just could not calm themselves down enough to realise that the linesman had raised his flag before the ball went in. Passion of this sort was almost scary.
In the second half, France went for broke and brought on Henry and Malouda. Malouda gave France some hope and crushed South Africa’s dreams of advancing by pulling a goal back. 2-1 to South Africa. South Africa then needed to score 4 goals to get through to round 2. With about 20 minutes left, fans starting trickling out and leaving. They did not want to stay to the end to watch their beloved Bafana bow out. The first host nation to ever be eliminated in the first round (group phase) of the World Cup.
When I got back, TV stations were very anxious and nervous as to whether fans would continue watching the World Cup now that the hosts were out. They pleaded with South Africans to “adopt” and support another African team or “anyone else”. Both Supersport and SABC made these appeals. They were keen to maintain fan interest.
Bravo South Africa
South Africa should be proud of themselves for their performance. Given the quality of the opposition they faced, losing only one game and beating a star studded French team was an overachievement. On paper they were probably one of the three weakest teams in the World Cup and played without their most dangerous player (Benni McCarthy). They never realistically stood a chance of making a big impact at this World Cup. On my way back, a young South African lady on my bus astutely said that people had got carried away by the joy and emotion of the World Cup and unrealistically expected South Africa to beat world class opposition. She reminded everyone that “This is Bafana, not Brazil”. How true….
*There were a lot of prostitutes around in Durban and Johannesburg. I was driving through the upmarket Joburg suburb of Sandton one night and was shocked to see how many prostitutes were by the side of the road advertising their “goods”. One pulled down her top to expose her cleavage to me. In Durban they were even more blatant and openly propositioned passers by. One white Westerner (sounded British) got lucky and I saw him walking away with a black prostitute. In the hotels along the beach front, I saw prostitutes walking in and out of hotels. Some had obviously been “booked”.
*The quality of coverage by SABC and Supersport has been excellent. They have continual recap, highlights and analysis shows as well as live broadcasts of all the games. They also assembled an excellent cast of former pro footballers to provide colour commentary. Including African legends like Jay Jay Okocha, Stephen Keshi and Abedi Pele. Other guest commentators on South African TV included Kevin Keegan, Edgar Davids, Doctor Khumalo, and Shaun Bartlett. I did laugh when the South African analysts applauded themselves for completing all the stadia on time, and one German pundit chimed in: “of course, they stadiums were designed by a German architect!” Priceless. The worst commentator was former Nigerian Captain Stephen Keshi. He is about the most INarticulate current or former Nigerian footballer I have ever heard speak. He can barely string two sentences together. Amazing that a man who has spent so much time coaching millionaire footballer, living in Europe and in high brow company is totally incapable of expressing himself in intelligible terms. Shameful.
*Had Ivory Coast been in Nigeria’s group, they would have qualified for round 2. I feel for them. An immensely talented team that has not gotten the luck of the draw. Drawn against Argentina, Serbia and Holland last time, and Brazil and Portugal this time. This great generation of players might never play in the latter stages of a World Cup. A shame as they have the talent to reach the quarter finals.
*Brazil are going to win this World Cup. I’ve said so since last year. Everyone calls Spain the “favourites”, but Brazil are not just flair. Their coach Dunga has crafted a team in his old image: tough, resilient and uncompromising. They have flair players like Kaka, Elano and Robinho. However when tackles start flying in and it gets physical, they have tough nuts who can look after themselves like Lucio and Gilberto Silva. While slick passing Spain are vulnerable to physical roughhouse teams, no one will bully Brazil. Notice how they reacted when their match with Ivory Coast started to get physical and tackles flew in. Brazil gave as good as they got.
*Given how Lagerback and Berti Vogts performed, was it really worth it firing Amodu Shuaibu? Shuaibu has qualified Nigeria for the World Cup TWICE and NEVER LOST A WORLD CUP QUALIFIER. In the first phase he won 6 out of 6 games (the only 100% record in Africa) and qualified in the second phase – again unbeaten. In the 2010 African Nations Cup in Angola, he lost to games to Ghana and Egypt – the two teams who played in the final and came third. Yet he was fired. To be honest, given what I have seen of this Nigeria team, finishing third with them and playing 12 qualifiers undefeated is a miracle. Not even a combined coaching team of Alex Ferguson, Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola could win trophies with this Nigeria team.
*No country has ever won the World Cup with a foreign coach.
*Nigeria has not won an international senior trophy for 16 (yes SIXTEEN!) years. That should tell you that Nigeria is not a very good football team despite what its people think.