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Redemption and greed… the 2010 World Cup

The 2010 FIFA World Cup will take place from the 11th June to the 11th July this year, in South Africa. It is the 19th World Cup and the first one hosted by an African nation.

It will be the biggest sporting event ever, and over a billion people are expected to follow the 32-team tournament, won four years ago by Italy. Such a huge event will be exciting, over-analysed and inevitably fraught with problems.

South Africans hoped the World Cup would make them rich, with three million fans travelling to their country. But bookings are running at half the anticipated level and cash-strapped supporters seem to be avoiding a country, famous for its high levels of crime. Only two percent of corporate boxes have been sold.

Many South Africans resent the fact that billions have been spent on stadia they didn’t need, in the hope of ripping off football tourists and the political shenanigans that were required to host the world’s most prestigious tournament have left many of them hoping the event is a complete disaster.

However, it is not time to write off South Africa just yet; it is a complicated country and any event attended by Nelson Mandela is going to be granted a sort of deification; just look at the Rugby World Cup of 1995, which South Africa hosted and won. It was the first major sporting event since the abolition of apartheid, in 1994.

It was a huge success and was made into a Hollywood film, Invictus, directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Matt Damon.

South Africa is unlikely to win the football equivalent, but it is of huge symbolic significance to the country. Like China, with their Olympics, most of the nation wants the world to look on with approval, as they confirm their place on the world’s sporting stage.

The poet, Breyten Breytenbach, described the country as a place “shot through with heartspace and the danger of beauty”, so fans should attend the biggest event of their lives with equal measures of optimism and caution.

Logistically, there are problems. England’s training base, in Bafokeng, is still being compared to a construction site, but that is always the case with projects on this scale. Officials insist the complex will be ready on time, even if some infrastructure plans (roads) have fallen by the wayside.

England’s manager, Fabio Capello, chose the most isolated venue possible, probably to dissuade his players’ wives and girlfriends (Wags) from attending. The playing venue is actually a 20-minute drive into Phokeng, home of the Bafokeng tribe.

During apartheid, the tribe was helped by Lutheran missionaries to hold on to its ancestral lands and the discovery of platinum made the tribe very wealthy. But probably not as wealthy as their visitors.

Pampered by everyone, the English players have apparently been sleeping in Michael Jackson-style altitude tents, to help them acclimatise to South African conditions. They were all tested over the season and results suggested some players would benefit from sleeping in these tents at home.

The players apparently love the tents, which are said to aid recovery from injury as well as boost fitness levels. The tents increase red blood cells (which carry oxygen to the muscles); absolute nonsense of course, but every percentage advantage counts. Not for 6’ 7” Peter Crouch though; they couldn’t find a bed big enough for him.

As with all huge sporting events, the organisers have promised to leave a legacy and the “1 Goal: Lesson for All”, wants to alert football fans to the problems of providing education in Africa and Fifa’s president, Sepp Blatter, says it will be the biggest campaign based around a sporting event ever and “will leave a lasting legacy of education in Africa and the rest of the world.”

South Africa has always proved that sport and politics are inextricably linked and this World Cup is no exception. President, Jacob Zuma, said: “2010 is the most important year in our country since 1994.” Some in Zuma’s own party, the ANC, are calling for his resignation, after just one term, but this is more for his polygamy than perceived lack of organisational skills.

South Africa was chosen six years ago to host this tournament and has worked with America on security issues, but the world (mostly German and British media outlets) is still concerned about its ability to host the tournament.

They have made 10 new (or upgraded stadia) for the event and now security has become the main issue for its critics, following the murder of three, during the terrorist attack on the Togolese national team, at the Africa Cup of Nations, in Angola.

It was thousands of miles away, but tainted the African continent as a whole and reminded the world that South Africa has 50 murders, 100 rapes and 1,200 violent attacks and robberies reported every day. The strong rand and over-priced ticket prices ($80-$900) are also proving a disincentive to travellers and locals alike.

Out of three million tickets, over two million have been sold, but only 11% have been bought by South Africans, who were offered heavy discounts. 40% of them live below the poverty line and they are not especially interested in their national team, currently ranked 81st in the world.

English fans are hoping that Wayne Rooney, whose sponsors include Hovis, Nike and Coca-Cola, will remain injury-free and keep out of trouble. Some leading world players, however, have already been ruled out of the tournament.

Germany’s Michael Ballack will miss the World Cup because of a tackle in May’s FA Cup Final, France’s leading player, Franck Ribery, will probably be left behind for assorted sexual shenanigans and the likes of Thierry Henri and John Terry have got a lot of making-up to do. Who knows what will happen once the players arrive in South Africa? Reputations and legends are ready to be made, but also shattered.

Sven-Goran Eriksson was the English manager and considered to be a busted flush, but will receive over £2 million for taking his new charges, the Ivory Coast, to the World Cup. Unfortunately for him, his group also contains Brazil, Portugal and North Korea.

His tenure should be short, but he has a point when he says; “There are six African countries in the World Cup. It is in Africa for the first time and I am sure two or three will spring some big surprises.”

Wherever there is football, big business is never far away, and Fifa is going to employ ‘brand police’ to ensure only the logos of official sponsors are visible in the stadium. So you could pay your $900, only to have your clothes confiscated.

South African players will share one million rand (£90,000), each time they score a goal and will hope not to be the worst-performing hosts in World Cup history, but the fact their potential friendly opponents were all booked up a year ago, may mean they are underprepared.

Chairman of the English FA, Lord Triesman, has just been forced to resign, following a honey-trap sting, when allegations he made in private were published in a Sunday newspaper. He claimed Russian football authorities were going to help their Spanish counterparts bribe referees in South Africa, in return for favours in the 2018 bidding process.

That sounds fairly scandalous, but not as bad as the bet an online bookmaker has apparently been offering; customers can bet on a squad member of any team to be murdered during the tournament. Let’s hope both rumours are completely unfounded.

Group A Group B Group C Group D Group E Group F Group G Group H
Mexico Argentina USA Australia Denmark Paraguay North Korea Switzerland
Uruguay Nigeria Algeria Serbia Japan New Zealand Ivory Coast Honduras
France South Korea Slovenia Ghana Cameroon Slovakia Portugal Chile
Team to watch South Africa Greece England Germany Holland Italy Brasil Spain
How qualified Hosts Beat Ukraine in playoff Won Europe group 6 Won Europe group 4 Won Europe group 9 Won Europe group 8 Won South America group Won Europe group 5
Pedigree 3rd appearance 2nd appearance 13th WC, won 1966 3 times winners Runenrs up, ’74 & ’78 Current champions, 4 times winners 5 times winners Euro 2008 champions, but never won WC
Key man Steven Pienaar Theofanis Gekas Wayne Rooney Michael Ballack (injured) Wesley Sneijder Gianluigi Buffon Kaká Xavi

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