The situation also has racial undertones – as many things seem to have in Mzansi – as the Boks were historically supported mainly by white people, and the #StrongerTogether notion saw people of all races shouting their lungs out for the Boks at the 2019 and 2023 World Cups.
Now local soccer fans on social media are asking, ‘Where’s the love for Bafana Bafana? Are we not #StrongerTogether for the SA football team?’.
Those are valid questions, as the entire nation and corporate South Africa united behind Siya Kolisi’s warriors as they got the better of France, England and New Zealand with one-point victories to raise the Webb Ellis Cup for a record fourth time in Paris, while the same kind of affection hasn’t been afforded to Bafana over the last week or so.
You could also be flippant and say the Afcon is not the World Cup, and until Bafana at least match Banyana Banyana and reach the Fifa World Cup knockout rounds, they shouldn’t be feted in the same way as the Boks.
But let’s be honest: the chances of Bafana emulating Morocco’s 2022 squad and reaching the World Cup semi-finals – while not totally out of the realm of possibilities – is unlikely to happen anytime soon.
However, who says that their performance at the current Afcon in the Ivory Coast is not a stepping stone for success at the 2026 World Cup in the United States, Mexico and Canada?
The main goal is to qualify in the first instance, as they last featured at a World Cup when hosting it in 2010. But on the basis of their tenacious displays at the ongoing Afcon, and the fact that there are now nine African slots instead of five, Bafana have a good chance of making it to the 2026 edition.
That story, though, will continue in June, when SA play their third qualifier against Nigeria away, having beaten Benin at home and lost to Rwanda away in Group C so far.
The here and now is Wednesday’s Afcon semi-final against Nigeria in Bouaké, central Ivory Coast (7pm SA time kickoff).
Yes, we have endured lots of heartache at the hands of Bafana over the years. Apart from 2010, the only World Cups they’ve qualified for are the 1998 and 2002 tournaments.
They didn’t even make it to the last Afcon in Cameroon in 2022, which was won by Senegal, so just getting to Ivory Coast was already an improvement.
But coach Hugo Broos and his team have shown true South African grit, mixed in with some sound tactics and individual brilliance to make it all the way into the last-four.
There has been a groundswell of support following the dramatic penalty shoot-out in the quarter-finals against Cape Verde on Saturday night, with captain Williams’ incredible four saves clinching victory.
But it was the 2-0 triumph over Morocco in the round of 16 that gained Bafana genuine respect across the football globe, and should have resulted in South Africans rallying behind them.
It was an exceptional display from Broos’ side, and Teboho Mokoena’s world-class free-kick goal was the cherry on the top of a memorable night in San Pedro.
The real Bafana Bafana are back, and deserve to have the whole of Mzansi showing their love for the team against Nigeria on Wednesday, and going forward. They have truly earned it...
* The views expressed are not necessarily the views of IOL or Independent Media.
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