South African soccer fan
Photo: Reuters

Attendance at the 29th Africa Cup of Nations football tournament in South Africa has been disappointing, with many empty seats seen on the TV broadcasts, but a few fans have caught my eye with their face paint, colorful attire and joyous spirit.

South African fans and Nations Cup organizers were happy to see the home team advance to the Nations Cup quarterfinals. South Africa’s four matches drew crowds of between 40,000 – 50,000, and officials were hoping a good run by the team, nicknamed Bafana Bafana, would sell more tickets. Mali ended South Africa’s Nations Cup campaign, though, with a 3-1 victory on penalty kicks in the

Ghana fans cheer at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. Photo: Reuters

Ghana’s national football team is nicknamed the Black Stars. If you look closely at the Ghanaian fans on the right, you’ll see a few black stars, including on their noses. As I write this, Ghana is looking forward to a semifinal match Wednesday against northern neighbor Burkina Faso.

Congolese football fans in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. Photo: Reuters

The Leopards of the Democratic Republic of Congo drew with Ghana, 2-2, during group play, and the Congolese also had draws against Niger and Mali. Like a leopard, the male Congolese fan on the left has some spots, including on his arms and face.

You could say the DRC’s Nations Cup performance was spotty, while many feel Ivory Coast had a disappointing tournament.

This Ivorian fan was smiling before a

Ivory Coast football fan
Photo: AP

quarterfinal match against Nigeria, but probably not after his team lost, 2-1. Ivory Coast was a pre-tournament favorite to lift the trophy on February 10th.

No matter who wins the big prize on Sunday in Johannesburg, I’ve enjoyed watching the fans who bring their own special zeal and enthusiasm to the stadiums.

Alfred Baloyi
Photo: Darren Taylor

Alfred Baloyi likes to bring his own unique headwear when he goes to the stadiums. In 1979, Alfred invented what’s now an iconic symbol of South African football – the “makarapa,” or “hard hat,” adorned with all kinds of decorations.

My buddy Darren Taylor, who visited Baloyi at his makarapa factory in Johannesburg, says Alfred, like his invention, has come to epitomize the chaotic, colorful and decorative nature of African football.