17 June 2009
The football fans of Mangaung/Bloemfontein are well known in South Africa as being among the country’s most vociferous, charismatic, and hospitable followers of the beautiful game.
And now the city’s warmth and love of the game has received the highest praise, after an enjoyable few days spent in the “City of Roses” by Brazil’s superstar Seleçao at the start of the Fifa Confederations Cup.
The Brazilians arrived in Mangaung/Bloemfontein on 11 June and held an open training session at the Seisa Ramabodu Stadium the next day, which was attended by thousands of ecstatic fans clamouring to see the likes of Kaka, Robinho, Alexandre Pato and Dani Alves in the heart of the area’s Rocklands township.
For South Africa’s organisers, it has been important to give ordinary football fans a taste of the tournament and its stars. And for the Brazilians, training in a familiar-looking favela and entertaining the football-loving locals was clearly equally important.
With the team’s welcome matched by good logistical preparations and facilities and the city’s first game seeing Brazil overcome Egypt in a 4-3 thriller at the Free State Stadium on Monday, excitement in the city is sky-high.
“I’ve really enjoyed being in Bloemfontein a lot,” said the team’s 2002 World Cup-winning midfielder, Gilberto Silva, after the game against Egypt. “We’ve had a good experience here. Everyone’s very happy with the conditions and the organisation.
“We had a very good crowd at our training sessions and at the match, and it’s been great seeing the passion people here have for the game,” Silva added. “They’ve been singing and dancing all the time.”
For the decorated former Arsenal player, who now plays for Greek club Panathinaikos, the Confederations Cup – and Brazil – is set to get even better over the next few days.
“It’s been a fantastic competition, and I am sure it will get even better,” Silva said. “We are very excited to be playing in a very important competition.”
One of the biggest names in the game, Kaka, was even more effusive in his praise of the locals.
“This is exactly the World Cup in Africa we were longing for and that we were expecting,” Kaka said. “It’s great to see the passion people here have for the game and how they celebrate and enjoy us being here. I am sure the World Cup next year will be even better.”
The Brazilian team’s media officer, Rodrigo Pavia, said his message to the Brazilian press and the team’s multitudes of supporters back home was that their reception and experience in South Africa has been “wonderful”.
“Everything’s been great,” Pavia said. “The hotels, the structure and the stadium. In Brazil we don’t have any stadiums like [Free State stadium]. The pitch was OK and the security perfect.
“Everyone here in South Africa has been really nice, and our open training session was wonderful, amazing,” Pavia added. “The fans danced and sang throughout. We have the same kind of atmosphere and way of life in Brazil, and the players have really enjoyed being here.”
Having charmed their way into the hearts of Mangaung/Bloemfontein, the Seleçao are now in Tshwane/Pretoria for Thursday’s game against the United States at Loftus Versfeld Stadium – and their highly anticipated, sold-out clash against current world champions Italy at the same venue on Saturday.
The most popular football team on the planet can rest assured that the reception they receive in Pretoria will be equally warm and friendly.