Afcon dares SA to dream
"YO, when you're rolling to the carnival, anything can happen." Thus opined Wyclef Jean in his salad days, back in 1998. And right about now the evidence suggests we are rolling to the carnival. This Afcon is beginning to vibrate at a wild and beautiful frequency.
Perhaps the phrase "anything can happen" is too strong. But many, many things can happen.
Consider the loony chain of events between 8.30 and 9.30 on Sunday night. Golazos by centrebacks. Weeping coaches. Singing coaches. Coaches hugging journalists. And we haven't even started the quarterfinals yet.
Bafana's Siyabonga Sangweni marauds down the left wing and pings home a finish so classy it would make Robin van Persie proud, warding off doom for the host nation with one heroic flash of his right boot.
A few minutes later, Morocco coach Rachid Taoussi weeps tears of sorrow and pride in the post-match press conference. At the same time, down in Port Elizabeth, Cape Verde coach Lucio Antunes croons a folk song, Biography of a Crioulo, in tribute to his indomitable band of islanders as they sail defiantly into the quarterfinals.
Next, Gordon Igesund dares the South African press to believe his side could go all the way - and gives emotional hugs to two of South Africa's senior football reporters on his way out of the press conference.
Many things are happening. So would somebody please give the Honourable Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula an Indian head massage? Otherwise he might blow a mental gasket, or send out a press release so long and verbose it will throttle South Africa's 3G signal and curb our GDP.
And please don't tell Bra Fiks, but down here in Durban people are starting to whisper out loud a recently unthinkable thing: that Bafana Bafana might, might, might just be able to win this thing.
By the time you read this, you will know who Bafana will face on Saturday night in Durban. Whoever the next opponents are, they will be more dangerous than both the hapless Angola or the youthful Morocco. And on Sunday Bafana defended so haphazardly that no rational observer would give them a ghost of a chance against the likes of Ivory Coast, Ghana or Nigeria. But the rational observers are not rolling to the carnival.
To be sure, Bafana will not be parking any buses á la Greece during their zany passage to the Euro 2004 title. At this point, they are barely parking a draadkar in front of their goal. The central midfield duo of May "YouTube" Mahlangu and Dean "Khumbul'ekhaya" Furman is bright and gutsy, but neither those two nor the fullback duo are offering much protection to Sangweni and Bongani Khumalo, who have both been error-prone.
Thankfully, Itumeleng Khune is better at being exposed in one-on-one situations than most porn stars. He saved Bafana three times on Sunday and he can do it again.
And suddenly, weirdly, there are goals in the blood of this team. Sangweni has led the charge but Katlego Mphela and Bernard Parker will come good. They owe us goals. Lehlohonolo Majoro will be available again on Saturday. And coach Igesund has shown a laudable capacity to improvise.
And there is something special germinating in this side: a combination of courage and enjoyment that will only deepen by the time Saturday rolls around. Those two qualities seemed so utterly absent in the opening match against Cape Verde. Many of us, this writer included, dismissed Bafana's hopes in the aftermath of that miserable showing.
We were dead wrong.
Let's roll to the carnival. Many things can happen.