The only person who rivalled Itumeleng Khune’s popularity here was in the stands.
The fans might not have chanted his name like they did that of the Bafana Bafana goalkeeper and captain after the second and third goal he started with his pinpoint distribution, but that person felt the love nonetheless.
That person, a drummer clad in a Mamelodi Sundowns t-shirt, was as important as Khune. While Khune was the playmaker on the field, the drummer played that role in the stands.
An army of EFF supporters in their red ensemble sat next to him in the second half singing in unison, while another section was waving and clapping to the rhythm of Bloemfontein Celtic’s No 1 fan.
For the better part of this week it didn’t look like Bafana would get such a crowd. On Tuesday, 300 tickets were sold, forcing organisers to slash the price from R100 to R50.
EFF leader Julius Malema was among those who called on South Africans to come out in their numbers to support the national team despite their difficulties in qualifying for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
Well done Bafana. pic.twitter.com/y6xPRYMeV5
The fans heeded the call to fill the biggest stadium on the continent. It wasn’t full but the atmosphere was electric. Not even the heavy rain just before kick-off could dampen the spirits.
The much-maligned team also came to the party, producing their best performance of the qualifiers that saw them 3-0 up at half-time. But celebrating those goals started cautiously. The referee had to take a second look and seek help from his assistant to award the first goal.
One fan quipped that we shouldn’t celebrate just yet, as Fifa might order a replay! That was in reference to Fifa ordering Bafana’s 2-1 win over Senegal last year to be replayed as the governing body alleges betting syndicates influenced Ghanaian referee Joseph Lamptey.
Themba Zwane and his Sundowns teammate Sibusiso Vilakazi scored two clear goals that started a party in this iconic venue. When the rain pelted down on the hour mark, Bafana had done enough to restore the love they had lost after back-to-back defeats to minnows Cape Verde.
The fans even showed Bongani Zungu some love after he was sent off for throwing a punch at a Burkina Faso player. As Zungu embarked on the walk off shame, the fans applauded him. It would have taken something seriously sinister for anyone in the Bafana colours to become a villain in what was a glorious outing.
This match confirmed that supporting Bafana is like being in an abusive relationship; just when you’ve made up your mind that you’re leaving them, they win you over with a gesture that reminds you why you fell in love with them in the first place.
This win gave Bafana’s campaign a much-needed resuscitation.