Even in defeat, SA behind Cup
Bloemfontein - South Africa crashed out of the World Cup on Tuesday but won their last match for redemption in the eyes of their fans, while France's loss only compounded their team's woes.
The 83rd-ranked South Africa came tantalizingly close to the miracle win the country dreamed of by defeating ninth-ranked France 2-1.
But they fell short of the points needed to advance out of their group to the next round, the first World Cup host ever to miss the mark.
That hardly diminished the enthusiasm among tens of thousands of supporters packed into fan parks while on pavements, each goal was greeted with honking horns, trumpeting vuvuzelas and cheers.
"It's fabulous. The vibe is hectic. It means a lot to us, especially as we are the host," said Thabo Maswanganye, a 27-year-old watching the game on a jumbo screen in down town Johannesburg.
For many, disappointment fell second to immense pride at hosting the event and the remarkable show of national unity behind the team.
"I think it's been very good for South Africa. It's brought us together again," said 29-year-old Matt Logan at a Cape Town fan park.
"The '95 (rugby) World Cup did same thing," he said, referring to Nelson Mandela's support behind the mainly white rugby team, a moment now seen as an iconic gesture of reconciliation.
The sentiment was echoed around the nation, with President Jacob Zuma comparing the mood to the euphoria seen when Mandela was released after decades in an apartheid prison.
"South Africa has never experienced such vibrancy and jubilation since the release of president Nelson Mandela and other political prisoners in 1990," Zuma said in Johannesburg before heading to the game.
"We are truly excited by the success and the spirit engulfing the country. For the first time ever in the 16 years of freedom and democracy, we see black and white South Africans celebrating together in the stadiums and fan parks."
Danny Jordaan, the tournament's top organiser, said South Africans would continue to rally behind the World Cup even though their team won't play again.
"It's the event that is in the heart of South Africans over and above our own team," Jordaan said.
"It's a wonderful success story so far."
"The things that you cannot quantify is how South Africans feel about their country, how they feel about the pride that has been generated, how the world views us," Jordaan said.
France's defeat only deepened the crisis that has ripped the team apart, with their nation already outraged at the antics of the millionaire footballers in refusing to train and threatening to boycott the match against South Africa.
On the eve of the match, Sports Minister Roselyne Bachelot said she had told the players they are a "moral disaster".
"I told the players that they are perhaps no longer heroes for our children," Bachelot told reporters.
"It is the dreams of your partners, your friends, your supporters that you have broken. It is the image of France that you have tarnished."
"They applauded me and they were crying", Bachelot said of the encounter at the team camp on Monday night.
A French Football Federation official, Henri Monteil, said many young players were again in tears when they went to coach Raymond Domenech's room to apologise for the strike that started after Nicolas Anelka was sent home for insulting Domenech.
France's World Cup campaign has been in disarray since the 2-0 defeat to Mexico. Anelka was replaced at half-time after his slanging match with Domenech and was later expelled from the team camp.
The French antics have led to angry protests at home with sponsors withdrawing and some towns even taking down giant screens put up to watch the national team's World Cup games.
FIFA meanwhile smoothed over a spat with Dutch brewery Bavaria, dropping charges against two Dutch women accused of "ambush marketing" for bringing 36 women in short orange dresses produced by the beer maker to the Denmark-Netherlands match on June 14.
Neither side would disclose the terms of the deal, but Barbara Castelein and Mirte Nieuwpoort said they were "happy to go home and that the situation has been resolved".