NATIONAL heartbreak was minutes away but Bafana Bafana showed fighting spirit to rescue their Africa Cup of Nations campaign with a goal by Siyabonga Sangweni in the dying moments of their final group game against Morocco in Durban last night.
"Siyabonga Siyabonga!" screamed fans as the goal sent the national team to the next round and saved the country from a day of mourning.
South Africa drew 2-2 with the goal but the implications for the entire tournament were huge as Cape Verde's 2-1 win over Angola at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium meant that Bafana Bafana could not afford to lose.
Without the national team's presence in the knockout stages, interest in the event would have waned.
Coach Gordon Igesund praised his brave boys.
"We feel very proud. It was a tough match out there but we've achieved our first objective.
"We could see how happy South Africans were out there and the looks on their faces, and they lifted the players up on two occasions.
"I thought the team played very well against good opposition.
"There were negatives from the game but I don't want to talk about them because we'll sort them out on the training field. I told the players that this team has nothing to lose and they will come at us.
"What went through my mind, as I knew the updates in the other game, is that a very tough decision needed to made ... we had to make sure when we were 2-2 that we didn't concede because Cape Verde were leading against Angola."
Bafana held on and the coach can now dream of replicating Clive Barker's achievements when he took the team to the title in 1996.
"I've believed all along. You've got to be positive and be in the right frame of mind and it rubs off on the players. We stood as lone rangers believing and we've got to carry on believing," Igesund said.
Bafana fans among the 80000 supporters at Moses Mabhida Stadium went through all sorts of emotions – from depression and despair, to elation and pandemonium.
As the minutes ticked by, the boys equalised after conceding an early goal but made things more difficult for themselves by conceding a second goal with less than 10 minutes of regular time remaining.
But Sangweni saved the team and the tournament by scoring the goal, so ensuring that the hosts march to the quarterfinals. The spirit of 1996 was evoked.
Shattered Morocco coach Rachid Taoussi, through teary eyes, said he hoped that his counterpart, Igesund, would take this Bafana team to the heights of the Class of '96.
SA Football Association president Kirsten Nematandani said to the players: "You have brought pride and honour to the nation and today you have written a piece of history for yourselves, families and friends." – Additional reporting by Sapa