Two weeks into the world cup and it now seems that South Africa was born to host the event. They might not have been born to play in it but organize it – no problem. The world celebrated with us when Bafana scored the opening goal of the tournament, a superb effort by Siphiwe Tshabalala. Bafana eventually settled for a much celebrated 1-1 draw with the Mexicans and progress to the next round was still a distinct possibility, but it was not too be. A 3-0 loss to Uruguay all but sealed their fate and a 2-1 win against a beleaguered French team, who played most of the game with 10 men, was satisfying but not enough. So Bafana packed their bags, at least they don’t have far to travel, and became the first host nation of a world cup not to proceed to the knock out stages.
Its not that we don’t have talent, we have that in abundance, but South African soccer has always made it difficult for me to support our national soccer team never mind watch them. It starts with the administration and works it way down to the players who often appeared to be a bunch of overpaid divas with little heart and not much bottle for a battle. Things were different this time, it’s a new start of sorts and this time most of us in this country and many around the world were routing for Bafana. If playing for your country in the world cup finals on home turf with millions actively behind you is not motivation enough, well then nothing is. And to be fair they gave it their all, but they are not there; they need a decent coach, hopefully local, some time and more of them need to play in Europe in the big leagues before they can play consistently at the top level and compete with the big boys. It’s possible.
So the world now knows SA can and is hosting an outstanding world cup. If you are not here for the occasion here’s a couple of other issues making news and noise at the ZA SWC.
The newly designed ball, generally a pretty innocuous, albeit important, part of most football tournaments has become a hot potato. The players hate it and Fifa swears by it. Who would you listen to the boots or the suits? The ball is too light, dipping and swerving is expected but so few long range goals and delicious curling free kicks into the top corner seem to support the players, who have only practiced with the ball for a few weeks, barring the Germans I think who may have played the whole of last season with it. Either way, another fail for Fifa.
Now if the ball is a hot potato, the Vuvuzela is … the steak and chips. The noisy horn, as one footballer described it, has been around for about 10 years and is a fixture at South African soccer matches. Lots of people hate it and while I agree that a stadium full of singing fans can create a special atmosphere, and the oohs and aahs of the crowd do allow for a more nuanced experience, no one can say that local games lack atmosphere. So as some call for it to be banned, they are starting to sell by the hundreds of thousands and orders from around the world are flooding in. Hey this little plastic horn could turn out to be South Africa’s biggest export yet.
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