It is that time when the humdrum of daily life is put aside for a month, to indulge in the world’s favourite past time. It is a carnival, an extravaganza, which has the world glued to a ball and twenty two pairs of legs. After making spectacular appearances in four continents, now it is Africa’s chance to revel in the glory. It is time for the FIFA World Cup 2010.
The nineteenth edition of the world’s most watched event is here again, four years after Zidane gave Zhao Xiaokai an idea to make $125,000. The World Cup is scheduled to be staged in South Africa from June 11 and, as expected, the whole world has its eyes on the nation. An estimated 26 billion people are expected to watch the biggest competition in world football this year, and chances are that not one of them is going to be disappointed, for the want of high quality international football.
More than two hundred countries competed to grab one of the thirty two spots available in the tournament, truly making it a ‘world’ cup. This is the first time the tournament is being held in Africa, and South Africa can be proud of the fact that they bagged the hosting rights to such a seminal event. The World Cup features thirteen teams from Europe, six from Africa, including the host nation South Africa, five from South America, three from North and Central America and one from Oceania. There are eight groups with four teams each. The top two teams from each group advance to the knock out stage, from where we proceed to the quarter finals, semi finals and then the grand finale of the football World Cup.
For the first time, this World Cup will not have any debutant teams, though Slovenia and Serbia have played only as part of other teams in previous tournaments. After a year of tough qualification campaigns and more than it’s fair share of controversies, the premier football tournament is just days away from enthralling all.
First staged in 1930, the FIFA football world cup has seen many changes and has accommodated all of them. The first World Cup was held, and won, by Uruguay. Since then, the World Cup has been staged every four years, except in 1942 and 1946 owing to the Second World War, and has brought the best in international football to the world stage. Seven nations have won the World Cup. Brazil leads the pack with five wins, followed by Italy with four, Germany with three, Argentina and Uruguay with two and England and France with one each.
South Africa is all geared up to host the most prestigious tournament in international football. It is sure to be a defining period of time, not just for the country, but for the whole continent itself. For a month, Africa will be splashed across all the newspapers in the world, for the right reasons. It will be yet another fine opportunity for the melting pot of cultures, South Africa, to exhibit its ethnic diversity, the opportunities it offers and its organisational capacity. South Africa has a very notorious crime record, often finding itself occupying exalted positions in United Nations’ lists. However, the nation has increasingly shown itself to be one of the most favoured venues, to host high profile international sports tournaments. After resounding success hosting a variety of international cricket tournaments including World Cups, the rugby World Cup and other tournaments of the same sport and a few hockey tournaments and the 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup, South Africa is ready to host a tournament second in proportion to the Summer Olympics.
South Africa has built five new stadiums and renovated five others to provide ten world class venues to host the World Cup. The country has used the opportunity to improve it’s infrastructure on a large scale, especially in areas of public transport and fighting crime. Despite widespread fears that they may not be up to the task of hosting an event of such magnitude, South Africa has risen admirably to the task and promises to showcase a spectacular tournament.
A fan’s view
Any World Cup is accompanied by intense speculation, wagering and discussion as to who will emerge as the best side in the world. This year is no different. Spain, the European champions are the favourites to win. Their attractive, quick passing, fast paced game enamours many a football viewer and, if they display the consistency they did to win the Euro 2008, they will have more than a good chance to win the grandest prize in football. Brazil, as usual, is high on the pundit’s and fan’s list. The five times champion, is blessed with an abundance of talent and are known for playing an attractive brand of football. They will be hoping to take their country’s tally of World Cup triumphs to a record six wins. England has been perennial under-achievers in international football. It has been 44 years since they won a major trophy at the international level, despite having many world class players. Nevertheless, they once again find themselves to be one of the favourites, to lay their hands on Silvio Gazzaniga’s brainchild. Italy, the current champions are, at best, dark horses. But what would be heartening to them would be the fact that, they received pretty much the same response from the bookies last time too. An injury hit Germany is another contender, though how they will cope without a few indisposed key players remains to be seen. Argentina have in their ranks the world’s best player and a maverick manager. The two time champion has a relatively easy group stage and is expected to fight tooth and nail for the top honours. Meanwhile, South Africa faces the ignominy of being the first host nation not to advance past the group stage.
The high altitude at which a majority of matches are to be held is expected to be a crucial factor, testing the stamina of players to the utmost. For that very reason, teams which espouse quick passing and pace may be at a slight disadvantage as compared to teams depending more on long balls and set-pieces. The famous vuvuzela will be another factor, and might even aid the home team scrape past their opponents. The instrument had come under scathing criticism from players, coaches and even broadcasters, which prompted FIFA to think about banning it at the World Cup. However, wiser counsels prevailed and the traditional South African instrument shall blare out in full strength from June 11 to July 11.
Check out the newspapers and they are all filled with football banter. They range from goalkeepers deriding the ball, injury scares to key players, tactics of the various managers to the sales achieved by sports goods companies. Though the World Cup appears to be all about the stars and the teams, ultimately, it is for the simple football fan, like you and me. The football fan is the base of the giant empire called the football industry. True, football is outright commercial these days, with advertisements hogging every inch of space they can get. However much one argues about the inconsequential nature of a fan, the simple and yet amazing joys that international football provides is unmatched. The tournament in South Africa is not just about the Messis and the Ronaldos. It is about teams from a country, who gel together to bring as much glory as they can, to the flag to which they bear allegiance. It is about the underdogs, the unfancied ones upstaging the powerhouses. It is not even a winner takes all event. Many of the fondly remembered football heroes, like Johann Cryuff and his Dutch team which showed the world Total Football, the nimble footed Brazil team of 1982, the Magical Magyars and Eusebio were all unsuccesful, but they still remain etched into the minds of fans worldwide.
The World Cup may not have brought as much dividends as people hoped for at the start, as events like Bikkiesdorp prove. It is even argued that the World Cup inhibited the development of many crucial sectors in South Africa. Yet ultimately, it is all about the triumph of human will and determination, to beat the odds and come out smiling.
The World Cup is here again! Expect to be swept off your feet.
Aju Basil James