Bafana Bafana, South Africa's national team, was ranked 83rd in the world soccer-rankings. France, their final opponent in the opening round, was ranked 6th. By that game, every South African knew their team stood almost no chance of making it into round two. All they wished for was that they should go out winning a game. But, the odds were steeply stacked against an SA victory.
Our opening game appearance wasn't too promising either. Mexico is a strong team and we genuinely feared that we'd make history as the first World Cup host nation to lose an opening match.
The South Africans only had one thing going for them: Spirit. Lots of it. South Africans exuded more positive energy in the opening day of the 2010 World Cup than in recorded history. I sat in traffic for two-and-a-half hours, creeping along to collect my kids from school on that Friday. Joburg had never witnessed so much traffic. Thousands of motorists rushing home to catch the game crawled alongside busloads of fans, all blocked every few minutes by motorcades whisking dignitaries along (Joe Biden's passed me on the road). There were concerns that the South African team would arrive late at the game due to the congestion.
It was chaos.
And everybody loved it.
Poeple waved, sang, blew vuvuzelas and danced in the street. Everyone smiled. When the team bus eventually snaked from its hotel towards the stadium, the crowds went wild. When they entered the stadium, the crowds went wild. Eleven men, who weren't really cut out to take the international stage, walked onto the field as heroes. And they played beyond expectation.
SA drew with Mexico. In fact, a South African player scored the opening game of the tournament (and boy, did the crowds go mad! It was already Shabbos when he scored, but we knew all about it from the roaring vuvuzelas.) Uruguay outdid the South Africans, but the home team managed to beat the French- achieving the impossible.
Ok, so we didn't make it to the second round. But, we learned a great lesson in positive energy and how much you can do for someone with a little encouragement.