South Africa mourns exit of last African team from World Cup

JOHANNESBURG, July 3, 2010 (AFP) - South Africa's World Cup party took a sad turn Friday as Ghana, the last African team in the tournament, were sent home by Uruguay.

Despite holding their own for 120 minutes, Ghana were unable to match the South Americans from the penalty spot, going down 4-2 in a penalty shootout after the score stayed locked at 1-1 following extra time.

Two supporters of Ghana leave the stands of Soccer City stadium at the end of the match between Uruguay and Ghana on July 2, 2010. AFP

Takalani Neluheni, a Johannesburg fan with a Ghana flag painted on one cheek and a South African flag on the other, summed up the host country's heartbreak after the match.

"I'm very disappointed. The last African team is out and now there's no one to represent Africa. I'm just really mad and upset about it," she said.

"I was kind of hoping that Ghana would keep the Cup in Africa but now that dream is gone," she told AFP. "I don't know who to support any more."

Uruguay fans meanwhile expressed remorse amid their post-match festivities after helping to knock out the hosts during group play then sending home the last African side.

"I feel a little bad. First we knocked out South Africa, and now Ghana. It's unfortunate. But I feel very happy for Uruguay," said Mingo Denis.

Nelson Mandela had led the country in rallying around Ghana for their quarter-final match after South Africa's Bafana Bafana were knocked out in the first round.

Ghana, only the third African team ever to reach the quarter-finals, were adopted as "BaGhana BaGhana" and cheered as the home side.

"We join everybody on the continent and in the diaspora in wishing you success in the tournament going forward," Mandela said in a letter to Ghana's football association.

The sentiment was echoed across Johannesburg ahead of the match at Soccer City stadium, as street vendors largely swapped their Bafana kit for scarves, beanies and flags in Ghana's colours.

Even South Africa's World Cup organisers had abandoned any pretense of neutrality when it came to the team.

"By the kind of excitement that Ghana has generated throughout the continent, we want to wish them well tonight and we hope the whole continent as well as the whole world to support them to be the first African team to win the World Cup," said Rich Mkhondo, spokesman for the local organising committee.

For local fans, Ghana's match overshadowed powerhouse Brazil's 2-1 shock loss to the Netherlands on Friday in southern Port Elizabeth, in the first of two days of quarter-finals.

Despite the shooting of an American backpacker in an armed robbery on Wednesday, South Africa has largely overcome fears about its high crime rate and fledgling public transportation system, pulling off the World Cup without major incident.

South African President Jacob Zuma said his country was ready to host the Olympics, after the confidence inspired by the World Cup.

"This has proved to the world that we are capable of hosting any international event, we have the resources and infrastructure," Zuma said in an interview with football governing body FIFA.

"I don’t see why we can’t bid to host the Olympics in the future. It's important for Africa," he said.

FIFA officials have showered praise on the country, despite initial hurdles like a transportation logjam that saw many fans arrive late for the opening ceremony on June 11.

"We will break records in many areas here in South Africa in terms of ticket sales, in terms of ratings," FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke said on local radio early Friday.

With about 2.9 million tickets sold, this is the best-attended World Cup since the tournament was held in the United States in 1994, according to FIFA.

"In terms of even international visitors, we are already at 500,000 when a lot of people said we will only have 250,000 visitors," he said.

"Even with Bafana Bafana out, the vibe is still there. We are very pleased with what we have done because it is exactly what we have been working on, since so many years."

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