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South Africa's dream dies but fans can exit with heads high

In a country no stranger to miracles, South Africa needed one last night to stay in the World Cup. But the hosts could only manage half of one as they beat France but lost out to Mexico on goal difference.

At least Bafana Bafana went out to the sound of a million wailing vuvuzelas on a tense afternoon where the impossible briefly looked possible after a demoralised France lost a player, then two goals against a rejuvenated South Africa. But the flood of goals needed to reverse a five-goal deficit never came. Instead, France scored and the match finished 2-1.

Leaving the fan-fest in Polokwane in the north of the country, David Ntenda, along with thousands of others, was frustrated but proud with the final push from his team: "At least it was better than past performances. But France were vulnerable – we should have beat them 4-0. We could have done it."

He refused to be too downcast though. "I'm happy with the result and our morale isn't down – we will support the rest of the tournament."

The fan park at Soweto outside Johannesburg was half-empty as the matches kicked off – testament to the unlikely set of circumstances needed for the hosts to progress. By half-time though, with South Africa leading and France down to 10 men, more than 40,000 supporters had flooded in. The atmosphere became delirious as Bafana took a two-goal lead and the hordes in green and gold made an unprecedented noise in support of their team.

In Polokwane, a stream of local fans made their way to the evening match between Argentina and Greece, hinting that the emotional support for the finals would not be deflated by the hosts' early exit.