South African Cinderella Story?

Swarms of yellow shirts attacking incoming cars, vuvuzelas and car horns blaring, South African flags flying, crowds dancing around singing “ole, ole, ole” and soccer circles forming prompted by the popular World Cup song “Make the circle bigger, make the circle bigger …”

Such were the sights and sounds of Long Street in Cape Town last night after the South African men’s national soccer team -- fondly known as Bafana Bafana, or "the boys, the boys" -- tied Mexico 1-1 in the Cup-opening game against Mexico in Johannesburg. The idea of such celebration in the streets after a tie might seem puzzling at first, but the fact is, most locals didn’t have much hope for the boys. The general town sentiment towards the Cup opener was if the boys lost this game, all hope of advancement within the tournament would be lost as well.

Seeing the celebration in the streets was not only surprising because of the less-than-mediocre score, but also because after some reporting I did within the past week, I’ve found that although there are Bafana signs everywhere, based on my rough survey, I’d say more people in Cape Town are rooting for England. Taxi driver Jameson Karata, 25, of Funs Cabs Company, is rooting for England because “South Africa will not make it far.” He said most of his friends are rooting for France and Spain.

The support from the people in the streets definitely shows it. On countless occasions, I’ve spotted a South African flag, an English flag and often a French flag, conveniently juxtaposed next to each other – outside bars, gas stations, stores, restaurants, you name it. The French support is interesting since France is in Group A with South Africa and will be directly competing with them for advancement in the tournament.

While taking a minibus, which is used more by the black South Africans than whites (I even got a warning from a white South African man to not take them because they were “dangerous”), the bus riders were all talking about where to find England fan gear. Most South Africans grew up watching English Premier League soccer more than South African, and coupled with their lack of hope for the advancement of their national team in the games, they are putting more of their faith in the team they think has a much better chance: England.

But the game against Mexico yesterday seems to have turned the tide a bit for South Africa. With a tie between the other squads in their group, France and Uruguay, everyone is on their toes waiting to see what happens next. And with big soccer names dropping out like flies with recent injuries, like the World Cup favorite Didier Drogba, of Ivory Coast, and English Captain Rio Ferdinand, there could be room for potential upsets or as we say in the States “a Cinderella story.”

Who knows? Maybe Bafana Bafana will surprise their skeptical fellow countrymen.

Suzanne Kianpour is a soccer fan and desk assistant at NBC News in Washington, D.C. She'll be filing reports from South Africa throughout the tournament.

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