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World Cup: Host's celebration turns to mourning

June 17, 2010 |  4:46 am

Wednesday was a national holiday in South Africa. Thursday was a national day of mourning.

The Bafana Bafana's 3-0 loss to Uruguay in Pretoria has the team on the verge of World Cup elimination, a result that would make it the first host country to fail to advance out of pool play.

"As people walked home, for the first time the vuvuzelas were silent," said Danny Jordaan, chief of the local organizing committee.

South Africa has only a slim chance to advance to the knockout round, needing at least a one-sided victory over France next week. And Jordaan is already moving on, asking the hometown fans to continue to embrace the tournament even without their national team.

"What's important is the extent to which fans embrace the tournament beyond Bafana Bafana," Jordaan said, using the team's popular nickname.

The government echoed the plea.

"This is not the time to pull back, regardless of the disappointment we may feel after Bafana Bafana's loss," said spokesman Themba Maseko."Since the opening game ... South Africans have heeded the call to be good hosts, coming out in numbers to create a thrilling atmosphere. We need to continue doing this, irrespective of Bafana Bafana's performance."

On Wednesday, in solemn ceremonies, South Africa marked the anniversary of the 1976 protest march by students in the Soweto township that ignited anti-apartheid clashes. The event is seen as the start of the movement that ended the country's policy of racial separation.

A day later fans struggled to come to grips with the fact that their underdog team's run appeared over after just two matches.

"This team broke our hearts. We're in our own country," waiter Brian Zikhale told a reporter from Reuters.

His brother Mzo nodded as a couple of customers quietly watched a replay of the previous evening's match on TV.

"We were supposed to win," said Mzo. "Bafana Bafana don't have fighting spirit. People are suffering now. Fewer people will watch the next game."

Newspaper headlines cried "Agony" and "Nightmare" or blamed the result on a "one-eyed referee and timid Bafana". 

Jordaan tried to remain upbeat.

"It's a tournament of severe host nation pain," he said "but a celebration from the organizing committee perspective."

-- Kevin Baxter in Johannesburg