Transition game

Michael Bradley's tying goal against Slovenia was one defining image from the World Cup. Pedro Ugarte/AFP/Getty Images

This article appears in the July 26 issue of ESPN The Magazine.

It was a meaningless game: South Africa vs. France in a first-round finale of a group that was all but decided. The host nation needed a miracle to advance, and thanks to Mexico and Uruguay holding their score down, the outcome of this June 22 tilt wouldn't affect the World Cup one way or another.

Meaningless, unless you were in Tshwane/ Pretoria, nearly 300 miles from the site of the game, a city whose very name is in transition, with an ongoing court battle over whether it should carry a black or a white name. Meaningless, unless you heard the shouts and roars and blowing horns erupting from apartment windows, reverberating across the deserted streets and razor-wire fencing, into the jammed hole-in-the-wall cafés and back out again, each time Bafana Bafana put the ball into the French net and drove another nail into the coffin of a world soccer power.

Ecstatic cheers and vuvuzelas. The old sounds of the game mixed with the new, creating something altogether memorable and meaningful.

This first World Cup held in the cradle of humanity promised a rebirth for the game, and a new era for its host -- new infrastructure, new unity, a new perception from the outside world.