Bafana's 12th man missing
Bloemfontein - There was tension, but a high degree of optimism around the Free State Stadium on Tuesday prior to Bafana Bafana’s Group A third round clash against a French side in turmoil.
With just an hour to go before the 16:00 kick-off there were only a handful of fans inside the stadium.
Once again there was likely to be a late surge of supporters streaming into the stadium as the game had been sold out.
Organisers were confident Bafana’s 12th man in the Free State capital - supporters of top Premier Soccer League side Bloemfontein Celtic - would make their voices and vuvuzelas heard and try and compound the French misery.
Bafana midfielder Lance Davids tweeted that the players were “going to make the country proud”.
Both sides had to win for any chance of progressing to the next round. Both had a point each from two matches.
Fates in other match’s hands
But their fates lay with Tuesday afternoon’s other Group A match in Rustenburg, where Uruguay and Mexico would square off.
Both had four points and a draw would mean both Uruguay and Mexico progress to the last 16.
A defeat or draw would see Bafana not only become the first World Cup host nation to fall in the first round, but also the first host to finish last in their group.
Bafana need a miracle to qualify. They have to hope either Uruguay or Mexico score a big win and they defeat France, the 1998 world champions and 2006 World Cup runners, up by a 5-0 margin.
The optimism from Bafana fans stems from the fact that French players and head coach Raymond Domenech are fighting among each other.
The French players refused to train on Sunday in protest against a decision by the French Football Federation to expel striker Nicolas Anelka after the Chelsea star and Domenech had a heated row during a match last week.
Domenech said he would evaluate his players prior to the match and select only “those mentally and physically fit”.
According to Agence France Presse, French sports Minister Roselyne Bachelot reduced the French players to tears at a meeting on Monday night, telling them they had tarnished the image of France.
The problems in the side were reportedly deep-rooted, and there was tension not just between the coach and players, but between different player factions inside the camp.