20 June 2010, 10:48
South Africa go into their final group match with their World Cup hopes hanging by a thread but certain of one thing - passionate support in the rugby stronghold of the Free State.
Bafana Bafana's clash with France takes place at the shared home of Super 15 rugby side the Cheetahs and football outfit Bloemfontein Celtic, in an area where the question of which code you support tends to be a black and white issue.
Bafana's hopes of dodging the unwanted record of becoming the first host nation not to reach the second round hinge on a handsome victory over "Les Bleus" on Tuesday combined with a win for Uruguay or Mexico.
Harold Verster, chief executive of the Free State Cheetahs and Super 15 rugby, said there was still a racial divide between the sports but that it was changing, and he believed the World Cup would help break down barriers.
"It's a cultural thing, it's a traditional thing. There's huge support for soccer among the black supporters, and rugby is the traditional game of the Afrikaans white people," said Verster.
"But there are a growing number of white soccer supporters and a growing number of black Cheetahs supporters."
Verster said the Cheetahs and the Bulls (based in Pretoria) had the biggest fan bases among black supporters out of any rugby sides in South Africa.
And he said the Cheetahs were pouring resources into developing black players.
"One of the most important aspects of our rugby club is to transform and develop the game among non-traditional supporters," he said, adding that there were five staff whose main focus was on developing the game in non-white areas.
He said the programme had been responsible for bringing through high-profile players such as Springbok Ashley Johnson and Lionel Mapoe, and the club's academy of nearly 70 young players was split about 50/50 between black and white.
The central city of Bloemfontein, hosting six games in total, has embraced the World Cup, with even the Anglo-Boer War Museum holding an exhibit on foreign involvement and the role of soccer in the war.
Abraham Meang, a stall holder in downtown Bloemfontein, is in a good position to judge who is supporting Bafana, saying most sales of his merchandise have gone to black people as "whites prefer rugby".
Katlego Matshaya, a fan at the Nigeria versus Greece match, said: "Most people who like soccer are black people and whites like rugby."
He added: "I'm a very big fan of rugby as well as football.
"I go to almost every Bloemfontein Celtic match and sometimes go to see the Cheetahs but it is usually too expensive."
Bucking the trend is Johan Bekker, who is white and describes himself as a fan of Bloemfontein Celtic, who play in the South African Premier Soccer League, and English Premier League side Arsenal but not as a rugby fan.
"It's a cultural divide but for the World Cup the barriers have been broken down. For the Japan v Cameroon match you saw rugby fans with Springbok jerseys on," said Bekker.
"I think after the World Cup people's eyes will be opened somewhat. I know there are a lot of guys we have brought over from rugby to watch football."
But Andre Lombard, wearing a Springbok jacket, said the South African football team had not caught his eye despite the groundswell of support across the nation.
"We support the people who win. I support the Springboks," said Lombard.
For Pule Malebo, one of the most high-profile fans of Bloemfontein Celtic, rugby fans have not done enough to embrace the round-ball game.
"I don't think they have done much in terms of coming to the games.
"I want us to give them a chance up until the next match with Bafana Bafana just to see, because normally they would prefer to support Bafana Bafana than any other country."