South African passion set to explode
A sea off green and white is unmistakable from a distance as the noise of a vuvuzela (a vibrant South African instrument) invigorates the streets of Mangaung/Bloemfontein. There, Bloemfontein Celtic are about to play Orlando Pirates, and deep passion is evident in the faces of the anxious-looking supporters, many of whom arrived four hours before kick-off.
On this occasion the two sets of supporters are rivals, but they unite to form part of the South African national team's devoted fan base, contributing to an atmosphere characterised by dancing, singing and the playing of traditional instruments.
The Celtic followers' national organiser, Morris Mafanyane, is among the thousands who wait, rather nervously, for this club fixture to begin. In many ways, he epitomises a passionate South African supporter.
Mafanyane, while a diehard Celtic, has decided to use his platform to also promote interest in the FIFA Confederations Cup South Africa 2009. He insists he cannot wait for some of the world's biggest stars to land at the tip of the continent. Brazilian maestro Ronaldinho is his favourite player, while he believes gifted playmaker Teko Modise will propel Bafana Bafana into the semi-finals.
He has set his eyes firmly on all four games to be played in Mangaung/Bloemfontein during the two-week-long tournament, which will begin on 14 June. There, the duel between African champions Egypt and Brazil will kick off proceedings, although the match that appeals most to the locals, including Mafanyane, is the one involving the hosts and Spain. They refer to it as a ‘grudge match' simply because South Africans still believe that they deserved to emerge victorious in their last meeting at Korea/Japan 2002, when La Roja won 3-2.
"Here in Bloemfontein, people love football, they have so much passion for the game," Mafanyane said. "I have no doubt in my mind that all the games that come to Bloemfontein will be sold out. The Confederations Cup will give football supporters an opportunity to see these players in person. It is therefore important for fans to get their hands on tickets before it's too late."
The singing from the stands of the newly refurbished Free State Stadium is so loud that it makes it impossible to hold any form of a conversation with a person sitting a metre away. "This is what South Africa is about", one local remarked, "the country where people can best show their emotions and feelings in a football match."
These are the enthusiasts that are likely to breathe life into the upcoming FIFA Confederations Cup, although maybe their priority at the moment is to rally behind their local team, Bloemfontein Celtics - a club home to arguably South Africa's most fanatical supporters.
"This crazy atmosphere is what people can expect when they come to South Africa, we love our football here, we are passionate about the beautiful game," enthused Mafanyane. "My main objective right now is to see a sea of yellow (Bafana colours) in the stands during the Confederations Cup. It is important for us to sell our country to the rest of the world, and also we have to get the rest of Africa excited about both the Confederations Cup and the World Cup."