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21st Jun 2018

The incredible, inspirational story of how three friends realised their World Cup dream

Melissa Reddy

The World Cup scenes that stick with you longest, the lingering memories of which can birth a smile or generate imaginary dust in your eye, are often not match-related at all…

At a fan zone in Moscow last Friday, a group of Mexico and Colombia supporters combined to lift up an Egypt fan in a wheelchair.

They wanted him to enjoy an unimpeded view of his country’s opening fixture against Uruguay and that powerful, stirring image resonated well beyond Jose Gimenez’s late header for the South Americans.

The post-match sight of Senegal – Africa’s first victors in this tournament – dancing with their people, who relentlessly sung, drummed and swirled their flags during Tuesday’s fixture against Poland provided a joyous snapshot of what football is all about.

Another one of these larger-than-the-action storylines is the tale of three friends from South Africa – Fhatuwani Mpfuni, Thami Khuzwayo and Brian Moshoeshoe, who spent five years saving to realise a two-decade dream of watching the World Cup live.

It all started in Mamvuka, a village in rural Limpopo, with France ’98 the catalyst for a remarkable chronicle.

One day before the showpiece kicked off, Mpfuni’s father surprised his family with their first television set. Bafana Bafana, enlivened by a 20-year-old Benni McCarthy up front, had qualified for their introductory appearance at the finals and between 50 to 80 people gathered at the house to share in their journey.

There was no electricity, so a generator was used to ensure feed well beyond the national team’s exit at the group stage. Mpfuni, now 28, had made a promise then to watch a World Cup game live.

When South Africa hosted the 2010 World Cup, that ambition seemed as attainable as it would ever be, but his parents couldn’t afford any of the match tickets.

Mpfuni was in the second year of sport management studies at the time and had to settle for enjoying the games via a giant screen in Thokoza Park, feeling that “some dreams just never come true.”

In 2013, however, refusing to accept that reality, he linked up with Khuzwayo (31) and Moshoeshoe (30) – the trio all football administrators – to make the impossible plausible.

“We all had a common dream of watching World Cup games live,” Mpfuni tells JOE.

“Initially the plan was to go to Brazil 2014, but we did not save enough money and unfortunately failed on that mission, not having enough to even cover a return flight.

“We then decided to build on the little savings we had made in order to be able to go Russia 2018. We drafted a detailed and strict savings plan. We started from as little R500 a month (£28) and the fee increased annually.

“The savings allowed us to book most things early at cheaper rates. For example, we booked our flights in September 2017 and accommodation was secured in November of the same year.”

It sounds like a relatively simple blueprint, but it required exceptional dedication. “It was very difficult to stick to the monthly commitment,” Mpfuni explains.

“When we started, we had eight members, but some of the guys pulled out as they could not comply with the plan.

“Regardless of various challenges, financial and otherwise, the three of us remained disciplined and stuck to our goal.

“The dream of going to Russia kept us going.”

And it has been nothing short of priceless thus far, with the friends insisting that the experience has dwarfed the more than R60,000 (£3313) cost.

Supporting the African sides, they were in attendance as Mohamed Salah scored Egypt’s first World Cup goal since 1990 in a 3-1 defeat to Russia and will also take in Nigeria’s test against Argentina on the June 26 amongst other games.

And despite the script not reading so happily thus far for the continent – the Pharaohs and Morocco have already been eliminated while the Super Eagles and Tunisia lost their opening matches – it has not dimmed their euphoria.

In fact, the adventure has encouraged Mpfuni and his mates to do it all again.

“We have already begun planning for Qatar 2022,” he says. “We will start saving for that at the beginning of August this year. We have been getting a lot of enquiries from people and hope that a few of them will join us in this unforgettable journey.

“The plan is to never miss a World Cup for as long as we live.”

That’s goals and then some!