World Cup 2010
Notes from South Africa
by William Bowler
World Cup Afterglow
12 July 2010
It is seldom that football cup finals are sublime expositions of the sport. There is just too much at stake, too much adrenalin to allow the protagonists free expression of their talents.
As George Orwell said, “Serious sport is war minus the shooting”. Sunday’s World Cup final certainly lived up to this description – tense, often scrappy and bad-tempered but with touches of brilliance, such as Wesley Sneijder’s inch-perfect pass to put Arjen Robben straight through the middle of the defence, only to have his shot sent wide by the outstretched boot of Spain’s outstanding goalkeeper, Iker Casillas.For Spanish fans the moment they will remember forever came with just four minutes of extra time remaining, when Andres Iniesta, one of the stars of the tournament, lashed the ball across the goal of Dutch keeper Maarten Stekelenburg and in at the far post. That was it: La Roja beat the Oranje Elftal, and while Spain lifted the World Cup in their first-ever final, there was no third-time-lucky for the Dutch, who were left wondering whether they will ever shed the runners-up tag.
So now it’s all over. Psychiatrists and psychologists say there is no such thing as PWCD – post-World Cup depression. In the days and weeks ahead we shall see if they’re right, but for now South Africans are basking in the international acclaim of having staged this huge event with such resounding success. Foreign fans who travelled here, many in fear of rampant crime after this issue was blown out of all proportion by some of the tabloid press, have returned home with overwhelmingly positive impressions – not just of the organisation of the event, but even more importantly of the country and its people. The value to Brand South Africa of the first-hand accounts of these visitors – many of them people of considerable influence – is incalculable, as is the country’s exposure to the hundreds of millions of television viewers around the world.
Allow me to quote from a wonderful piece by London mayor Boris Johnson after his visit here, addressing the question of the Cup’s legacy for a country with such poverty and inequality. “The World Cup not only gave jobs and skills and hope to thousands of local people. It gave an absolute deadline to South Africa for the introduction and improvement of all kinds of infrastructure – not just sports grounds, but roads and bridges and airports and bus lanes that would otherwise not have been built and which will benefit the country for decades to come . . . It offers a sense of unity and confidence to a place with a tragic past. It gives potential wealth creators at least some of the infrastructure they need.”
I am privileged to say “I was there” – not only to immerse myself in the fabulous spirit of the event, but also to witness the gargantuan effort over many years to meet the “absolute deadline”. As a nation we have shown what we can do. Now, with such global goodwill backing us, let’s take that can-do attitude and set the absolute deadlines for our other pressing challenges.
Previously – when the 2010 World Cup kicked off:
Tuesday 14 June 2010
Starting with the negative – I’m afraid I’m one of the naysayers when it comes to the hideous vuvuzela. We all know what wonderful singers and harmonisers our black countrymen (and women) are, and it’s such a pity their voices are not being used to enthrall the watching world. Instead every match sounds like it’s been invaded by a huge swarm of bees. As one sports reporter noted this past weekend, all that happened after Bafana’s wonderful goal on Friday was that the decibel level rose for perhaps half a minute before settling back into the “default drone” (B-flat,127 decibels) for the rest of the match. How can that possibly uplift and inspire any team the way singing can, as shown so clearly in matches overseas? And many foreign players have complained that the noise makes it difficult to concentrate, the latest being Cristiano Ronaldo on the radio this morning. Obviously Bafana are used to it, so the dreadful instrument is being hailed as the team’s secret 12th man.
As you probably know, the medical fraternity has warned about the risk of permanent hearing loss from exposure to the vuvuzela, and Cape Town pharmacists are reported to be running out of stocks of earplugs. One variety is known as the “Vuvu Stop”, its label stating, “Highly effective noise reduction. Uses include: soccer, rugby or for couch potatoes to block out your wife’s moaning”!
So much for the negative, because the vibe is fantastic and it’s wonderful to see all these great teams in SA. . . . As for my non-expert opinion of play on the field, here goes:
After a really jittery start, Bafana did well to nearly beat a talented Mexico. Tshabalala’s goal was a scorcher, and an unforgettable way for him to celebrate his 50th cap.
Bafana’s other Group A opponents, Uruguay and France, played to a dead-boring goalless draw that put me to sleep on Friday evening.
Argentina looked quite impressive in beating Nigeria 1-0 but the jury is still out as to how well they will do under controversial coach “Hand-of God” Diego Maradona. One sports reporter has described him as a “raving lunatic” and I was amused to see two photographs in Saturday’s Argus that seemed to support this description – one of him yelling instructions to a clearly very puzzled and confused Carlos Tevez, and another of him shoving a startled Javier Mascherano in the chest.
Greece were woeful in going down 0-2 to the little guys from South Korea.
England “should have won” (here goes the parochial supporter) against a determined US, but for an absolute clanger of a goalkeeping error from Robert Green.
Algeria lost 0-1 to Slovenia in what, from the little I saw, looked an uninspiring game. I did see the goal late in the second half, which also seemed the result of poor goalkeeping.
Hooray, Ghana claimed Africa’s first victory in downing Serbia 1-0.
Germany were teutonically clinical in demolishing Australia 4-0 in Durban last night – the most impressive of the teams on view so far but they need to be tested against sterner opposition.
This week the other groups kick off their campaigns and it’ll be interesting to see how the bookmakers’ favourites, Brazil and Spain, fare against North Korea (tomorrow) and Switzerland (on Wednesday) respectively. North Korea could be something of a dark horse, competing for the first time since 1966 when England won and all of us were in our tender ‘teens! My elder brother was at a good number of those games and reminded me how the North Koreans knocked out Italy, who were fancied to win the tournament, in the group stage and went on to lead Portugal 3-0 in the quarter-finals before going down 3-5 thanks mainly to a 4-goal blitz from the legendary Eusebio. I guess this year’s North Koreans will feel obliged to play out of their socks, otherwise they’ll be executed on their return home.
I hasten to dispel the impression the above may have created that I have done nothing since Friday except watch soccer – I did go out for lunch yesterday! However, working from home I am in the fortunate position of being able to plan my day so as to be able to watch the games I want to see. My youngest, soccer-mad son persuaded me to splash out on tickets for the last-16 game here in Cape Town in the evening of the 29th, which if the group winners and runners-up are as expected should be Spain vs. Portugal or Ivory Coast. I’m praying it’s not spoilt by rain – this is now the Cape’s wet season and as I write this the rain is coming down steadily and has been doing so on and off since Saturday night, with more expected until perhaps Thursday. Cape Town’s papers expressed puzzlement that most of the teams and supporters have chosen to base themselves in Johannesburg or surrounds – what’s the surprise, for goodness sake, given the weather here at this time of year.
© William Bowler