22 June ~ South Africa is a country whose recent history suggests the impossible can become possible. Whether this extends to the football pitch we shall know later today, but the chances are that Bloemfontein will be the last stand for Bafana Bafana. Ahead of the match players have talked down their chances of progressing and instead focused on leaving home supporters with good memories to remember them by. "We want to leave the tournament with our heads held high," midfielder Teko Modise told the press on Saturday, leaving no doubt as to his expectation that they will be exiting on Tuesday night.
There were fears that the nation may have given up already given the sight of hundreds of fans streaming for the exits once Diego Forlán's penalty put Uruguay two goals ahead in the previous game. Those worries were allayed by the reaction Bafana received in Bloemfontein where another singing and dancing street party greeted their arrival. The fact that there was an offside missed by the officials in the build-up to the Uruguay penalty has left home fans with a sense of injustice and an opportunity to deflect blame away from the team. The support is staying with Bafana even though the reality is they were desperately poor throughout the Uruguay game and the score line was in no way disproportionate.
There are two factors that still may give us all hope. Firstly, the well-publicised implosion of the French squad has been noted but, in fairness, not dwelt on too heavily. Everyone knows that there are still far better individual footballers in the France side than the South Africa one, but no doubt it is the home side that have the team ethos still in place.
The second factor is the Bloemfontein crowd. Johannesburg, home to Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates, is the powerhouse of South African football but Bloemfontein has by far the most passionate crowd. Bloemfontein Celtic fans dance and sing their way through each and every game like no other supporters in the country. Yes there will be vuvuzelas but there will also be the sight of many hundreds of supporters chanting and dancing in unison.
It would not be at all impossible for Bafana Bafana to beat France under these circumstances but whether they can get the required swing in goal difference is another thing. The nightmare scenario of Uruguay and Mexico conspiring to play out the draw that would take both sides through has not been given much consideration. Neither side will want to risk facing Argentina in the second round, hence both should go all out for the win that would avoid such a meeting.
So South Africa coach Carlos Alberto Parreira has hinted at five changes to the previous line-up – two will be enforced by suspensions but he seems to be planning on involving almost all of his attacking personnel. Often criticised for adopting a too cautious approach with just one striker up front and packing the midfield, it seems that this time he will go down with his team. These are probably not mind games given that France do not seem to be paying attention to anything other than themselves at the moment. So this really could be the first great death or glory game of this World Cup tournament. Paul Giess