Tutu rallies South Africa
Johannesburg – Archbishop Desmond Tutu rallied South Africa around the national side for their make-or-break World Cup match on Tuesday against France, whose tantrums have cost the team sponsors and support at home.
Tutu's call for the nation to support Bafana Bafana was splashed across front pages, with The Star newspaper's banner proclaiming: "Storm the Bastille, Bafana".
"Win or lose, in many respects we have already won the World Cup," Tutu said.
"As South Africans, we need to pat ourselves on the back for having achieved something very special in terms of developing fantastic infrastructure, ensuring that it works, and uniting our people," he said.
In a nation still sharply divided by race and class, even in sport, the World Cup has at least for a time united South Africans in supporting their team.
The matches have brought whites into mainly black townships, and pushed the wealthy to go to stadiums by using public transport normally taken only by the working class.
"What we are experiencing in the country today is probably something that we last saw after the release of president Nelson Mandela from prison," government spokesperson Themba Maseko told a news conference.
Keep demonstrating unity
"After this World Cup, we are hoping to keep demonstrating unity as South Africans."
Although Mandela has not appeared at any World Cup matches, following his great-granddaughter's death in a car accident on the eve of the tournament, the spirit of South Africa's first black president still looms large, with his legacy regularly invoked.
For France, any national spirit evaporated after the team staged a one-day strike against training in protest at Nicolas Anelka's expulsion from the World Cup squad for his foul-mouthed outburst at the coach during the 2-0 defeat to Mexico.
France coach Raymond Domenech described the team's decision as "unspeakably stupid", while sports minister Roselyne Bachelot reduced players to tears when she lashed them for having "tarnished the image of France".
The revolt cost the team key promotional deals, as Credit Agricole bank cancelled television ads featuring the squad and fast-food chain Quick dropped advertisements starring Anelka.
Either team needs a big win in the central city of Bloemfontein to have any chance of progressing to the next round, but it all depends on the outcome of the Mexico-Uruguay match played at the same time in Rustenburg.
Organisers, however, had already begun turning the nation's focus toward ensuring that the event continues to run smoothly, with more than two weeks to go until the July 11 final.
Wonderful success story
"It's a wonderful success story so far," the tournament's top organiser Danny Jordaan told a news conference.
"We hope Bafana Bafana will give us the kind of result" that the nation hopes for, he said. "But I think it's the event that is in the heart of South Africans over and above our own team."
South Africa has been plagued by doubts over its high crime rate and its limited public transport ever since being named the hosts six years ago.
So far, the highest-profile incidents during the tournament have been an England fan who entered the team's locker room after a draw with Algeria and two Dutch women accused of "ambush marketing" for wearing short orange dresses to a match.
Briton Pavlos Joseph told a court on Monday he wandered by accident into England's dressing room while looking for a toilet but also told the team their performance had been a disgrace last Friday.
The two Dutch women are due to appear in a Johannesburg court later on Tuesday over charges that they violated strict marketing rules by bringing 36 women into a match in short orange dresses made by Dutch brewery Bavaria beer.
The Dutch foreign minister has called the case "absurd" and urged FIFA to target the companies rather than the individuals involved.