JOHANNESBURG, June 23 – Hosts South Africa were finding it hard on Monday to get their heads around the reality that they are just one game away from the Confederations Cup final.
And that it is Brazil who are waiting for them in Thursday’s semi-final makes it all the sweeter.
This is unknown territory for a side that was knocked out of the African Nations Cup in 2008 and hasn’t even qualified for the next edition in January.
Coach Joel Santana gave his first XI the afternoon off aside from a spot of light training with the reserves getting the chance to state their case for inclusion.
The training session at Rand stadium in the Johannesburg suburbs came 48 hours after the Confed Cup hosts went down 2-0 to Spain, but rarely can defeat, have been so eagerly received as they still scraped through to the last four on goal difference.
"I can’t describe the wonderful feeling of being in the semi-final," Benson Mhlongo said.
"The positive way we played against Spain can give us confidence that we can contain Brazil. Can we stop them? Well we’ve got nothing to lose coming up against these players, we want to prove to the nation that we can do our job.
"We know what to expect from Brazil, this is another big day for us.
"It’s a moment to cherish as a nation and we’ll take it from there," added the Orlando Pirates midfielder.
He said Bafana Bafana were drawing inspiration not only from their spirited performance against the European champions but also a friendly South Africa played against Brazil in the mid 1990s at Ellis Park, the venue for Thursday’s game that will have a nation glued to its television sets.
"We clipped their wings, leading 2-0 at half-time and losing 3-2 in the end. It is a morale boost for us, history can repeat itself but it’s up to us as players to carry it out."
MacBeth Sibaya, one of the team’s elder statesman who is based in Russia, is pretty devastated about missing this shot at history after picking up a second yellow card in the Spain game.
"I am disappointed but it hasn’t really kicked in yet, it will when the game starts."
"I’ll just have to make sure I’m in the team for the final," added Sibaya, a tad optimistically perhaps.
The midfielder said playing the likes of Spain and Brazil was providing the younger members of the squad with invaluable experience.
"Hopefully we’ll have a lot of games like this against big countries before the World Cup next year as they’ll give our youngsters more belief in themselves."
Mhlongo revealed that the spirit in the team since they came together to prepare for the Confed Cup was exceptional.
"We’re working hard and pushing each other, everyone’s talking with everyone else – the love we have is so wonderful I can’t describe it."
Love, combined with sweat and tears, are likely to be needed on Thursday if South Africa are to topple the defending champions.
Wednesday’s first semi-final pits Spain against the United States.