Seleção sings SA’s praises
The football fans of Mangaung/Bloemfontein are well known in South Africa as being amongst the country's most vociferous, charismatic, hospitable and passionate followers of the beautiful game.
And now the city's warmth and love of the game has received global acclaim, after an enjoyable few days spent in the ‘City of Roses' by Brazil's superstar Selecao at the start of the FIFA Confederations Cup.
The Brazilians arrived in Mangaung/Bloemfontein on 11 June and held an open training session the next day at the Seisa Ramabodu Stadium, which was attended by thousands of ecstatic fans clamoring to see the likes of Kaka, Robinho, Alexandre Pato and Dani Alves in the heart of the area's Rocklands township.
For South Africa's organisers it has been important to give bread and butter football fans a taste of the tournament and its stars. And for the Brazilians, training in a familiar-looking favela and entertaining the football-loving locals was clearly equally important.
With the team's welcome matched by good logistical preparations and facilities and the city's first game seeing Brazil overcome Egypt in a 4-3 thriller at the Free State Stadium on Monday, excitement in the city's certainly sky-high.
"I've really enjoyed being in Bloemfontein a lot. We've had a good experience here (in Mangaung). Everyone's very happy, with the conditions and the organisation. We had a very good crowd at our training sessions and at the match and it's been great seeing the passion people here have for the game. They've been singing and dancing all the time, excited to watch Brazil," said the team's experienced 2002 FIFA World Cup-winning midfielder Gilberto Silva after the game against Egypt.
And for the decorated former Arsenal player who now plays for Greek club Panathinaikos, the FIFA Confederations Cup - and Brazil - is set to get even better over the next few days.
"It's been a fantastic competition and I am sure it will get even better. We are very excited to be playing in a very important competition," said Silva.
One of the biggest names in the world game, Kaka, was even more effusive in his praise of the locals.
"This is exactly the World Cup in Africa we were longing for and that we were expecting. It's great to see the passion people here have for the game and how they celebrate and enjoy us being here. I am sure the World Cup next year will be even better," said the mercurial Brazilian star.
The Brazilian team's media officer, Rodrigo Pavia, said his message to the Brazilian press and the team's multitudes of supporters back home was that their reception and experience in South Africa has been "wonderful".
"Everything's been great. The hotels, the structure and the stadium. In Brazil we don't have any stadiums like this (Free State stadium). The pitch was OK and the security perfect. Everyone here in South Africa has been really nice and our open training session was wonderful, amazing. The fans danced and sang throughout. We have the same kind of atmosphere and way of life in Brazil and the players have really enjoyed being here," said Pavia.
Having charmed their way into the hearts of Mangaung/Bloemfontein, the Selecao are now in Tshwane/Pretoria for tomorrow's game against the United States at Loftus Versfeld.
And they can rest assured that the reception there will be equally warm and friendly for the most popular football team on the planet.