In a buzzing mix of drums, songs, dance and baritone vuvuzelas, Confederations Cup hosts South Africa failed to drive home a goal for nearly 50,000 fans at Sunday’s opening match.
But, for those in the stadium, the energetic atmosphere at FIFA’s biggest tournament yet on African soil was a match-winner.
“It was beautiful,” said Ahmed Jassat, 20, about the event’s upbeat opening ceremony that took place before the 0-0 game between Iraq and South Africa, which he followed in various emotional states.
South African fans at the Confed kick-off a year ahead of World Cup 2010 were crossing their fingers for goal-scoring fireworks from Bafana Bafana, which translates as ‘The Boys’, as the team is affectionately known.
“I’m disappointed because it’s our first game in the Confederations Cup, we were hoping to win. And we definitely had many chances,” said Jassat, who travelled from the eastern province of Mpumalanga for the match.
But like other spectators blowing furiously into uniquely local trumpets known as vuvuzelas, which boomed continuously around Ellis Park stadium, the commerce student wouldn’t dream of giving up on his team.
“I have full confidence in my side,” he told AFP while slumped in his match seat after the final whistle.
Also hoping for a better result was Ricardo Smith, 20, a student in Johannesburg, who remained patriotic but disappointed.
“My heart tells me that they’ll go to the final. But my eyes…” he said, his voice tapering off.
Apart from several flag-waving Iraqi supporters, the crowd was behind the home team dressed in zany football outfits of refashioned miners helmets, wigs and the ubiquitous vuvuzelas.
The arrival of the opening match after five years of preparation was a proud moment for South Africans, with the country seeking to reassure naysayers who doubted the nation’s ability to organise a major sporting event.
“It’s finally here. It’s happening,” said Lesego Madingwane, a 25-year-old engineer from Johannesburg, as he arrived for the match.
“This is a curtain-raiser for the World Cup – should we get this right, then the World Cup won’t be a problem. There were sceptics but I’m saying we’re ready.”
Soweto resident Tebogo Hlabolwa, 26, said the tournament was a sign of how far South Africa had come in the 15 years since apartheid came to an end with the country’s first all-race elections in 1994.
“I’m proud to be South African,” she said. “I think this country has been through a lot, and a game of soccer, sport in general, brings people together.
“It’s a sign of how things have changed – we are heading for success, prosperity.”
For Henny Sebulela, 29, of Johannesburg, the goalless match couldn’t diminish the experience.
“I think it was a great game,” he said.
A highlight was the opening ceremony, which featured some 700 school pupils forming a giant human flag and a musical showcase of local talent including top jazz artist Hugh Masekela.
“We are growing now. I feel prouder about my country,” added Sebulela.
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