Bafana shotstopper Darren Keet poses for photos with a fan at OR Tambo International Airport yesterday. Photo: Muzi Ntombela BackpagePix

JOHANNESBURG – Bafana’s qualification for this year’s Africa Cup of Nations means a lot to South Africa to an extent that legendary sports supporter Ntshebe, whose real name is Wilson Tshabalala, came out retirement to grace their arrival at OR Tambo International Airport yesterday morning.

Due to age, Ntshebe barely makes the long trips to the stadium like he used to in his heyday, but yesterday, he defied his aging legs and joined thousands of fans who were at OR Tambo to give the senior national soccer team a hero’s welcome after landing from Sfax, Tunisia, where they defeated Libya 2-1 in their final Afcon qualifier to book their ticket to Egypt in June and July.

The supporters filled every floor of OR Tambo, creating a nostalgic mood that has eluded the national team for a number of years following their failure to qualify for the past two major tournaments - the 2017 Afcon and last year’s World Cup in Russia.

The noisy, vibrant mood that was enhanced by chants, singing and rumbling was a sign of a winning nation, and it was spiced up by a soccer element as a female supporter, Nkele Mabele, was kind enough to reminisce the post-match mood from Tunisia.

Through vernacular commentary, she said, “nang’uPercy Tau, wathatha ibhola wayinika uThemba Zwane, bayeza kengoku”, which means, “Percy Tau has the ball and he passes it to Themba Zwane as Bafana are on the attack”

Back in Tunisia, a video from the Bafana’s dressing-room went viral following their qualification for the continental soccer showpiece, while coach Stuart Baxter appeared to be in the forefront of the celebrations.

It’s no secret that the Englishman is not everyone’s cup of tea following disappointments in the past, but his qualification for Egypt will give SA something to cheer about.

The slogan “Bafana Kaofela” was put to use at the airport, as journalists were also one with the crowd - donning a sponsor’s branded T-shirt that has all the national teams that will be playing in major tournaments this year - the Springboks at the Rugby World Cup, Proteas at the Cricket World Cup and Bafana at Afcon.

Bafana, who were showered with praises when they made their entrance in the international arrivals, made their way to the Press Conference Room where they addressed the media about their successful game plan that paid off in Sfax.

Tau, the Man of the Match in Sunday’s encounter, was the most notable absentee though, following his return to Belgium to pursue club football at Royale Union Saint-Gilloise. Nonetheless, the man of the moment was Baxter.

As he made his way of out of the Press Conference Room, he received a guard of honour in which a group of Bafana supporters chanted “nguBaxter lo abamaziyo, abazange bambona” which means, “This is Baxter, they know him, they never saw him.” The mood was appeasing to an extent that he had the time to take selfies before boarding the team bus back to Safa House.

Congratulations are in order for Bafana, as they will now become the third national team to play in a major tournament this year - joining Banyana Banyana and Amajita who’ll play at their World Cups in France and Poland respectively.

@Mihlalibaleka


The Star

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