Back at Ellis Park for day two of training, we took the opportunity to learn a bit about the stadium that is over 100 years old, and as you may know, is slated to host a quarterfinal game of the 2010 World Cup. To accommodate that massive game, the ground is being expanded, the locker rooms redone, and an entirely new media section added. It’s a really nice stadium, and by all accounts generates a great atmosphere for its teams. Those teams include the World Champion South African National Rugby team, better known as “the Springboks,” as well as Super 14 Rugby side the Lions, and SA Premier League team the Orlando Pirates. The Springboks recently won the2007 Rugby World Cup in France, an event that sent rugby fans in South Africa into a frenzy. “They were definitely excited,” said Dawie, who we talked to in the Lions team store, “but its not like 1995. People were happy, but now they’ve mostly moved on and forgotten about it.” In 1995, South Africa was the host of the Rugby World Cup, and Ellis Park was the venue for the final. South Africa was victorious in that tournament as well, defeating the famed All Blacks of New Zealand in the final. At the moment, rugby is in the off-season here, and according to Dawie, the Lions endured a bit of a mediocre season. They did however make it to the Cup Final (same idea as Cups competitions in soccer) and they should improve next year. As you may have been gathering from our posts, South Africa is crazy about sport, but Dawie said that while football fans and sports fans in general support rugby, hardcore rugby fans don’t watch or care about anything else. Sounds a bit like some fans state-side….
To get the scoop on some of the goings on local soccer, we spoke to our liaison from the SAFA, Abram. The season is currently in session here, and in fact the big Jo’burg derby between the Kaizer Chiefs and the Orlando Pirates is coming up quite soon. “It’s huge,” said Abram, “definitely the biggest rivalry in the country, and maybe in most of Africa.” To coincide with the FIFA World Cup Preliminary Draw in Durban, the derby has been moved out of Jo’burg to Durban, where it will be played in front of a raucous crowd as part of the festivities surrounding the draw itself.
We also asked Abram about the South African team, and he told us some interesting things. The name Bafana Bafana, as the South African team is known, was actually created by the media in the 1990’s. After the team was reinstated to FIFA in 1992, the local media sought a new name to demarcate the beginning of the new era in South African soccer. As such, Bafana Bafana (which means “boys boys”) was born.
The Bafana Bafana reached a low point when the future hosts failed to qualify for the 2006 FIFA World Cup. Recently, however, things are looking up for the team. They’ve hired Carlos Parreira as their coach, who led Brazil to the 1994 World Cup, and optimism is running high as the team heads into the 2007 African Cup of Nations. Everybody we meet here is proud of their team, and they’re also quick to point out that the Bafana Bafana will play hard and give us a great game on Saturday. With a near capacity crowd expected and both teams playing under the banner of Nelson Mandela, it should be a fantastic day.