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2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa

June 11, 2010 by  
Filed under lifestyle, Special Features


World-CupFrom June 11th to July 11th, 2010, the world will come to a standstill – or at least a ‘sit-still’ – as arguably the world’s greatest sporting event takes place. The FIFA World Cup is a sporting spectacle that transcends age, economic class, social status and even religion. This year, more than 30 billion viewers are expected take in the 64 matches worldwide; this is an incredibly large number given that the global population is around the seven billion mark. In comparison, the Vancouver Olympics drew an audience of 3.5 billion viewers. This kind of audience means huge revenues and huge expenses. South Africa has 10 world class stadiums to host the matches, ranging from seaside stadiums to venues that are at such high altitude that some countries have been forced to train in parallel conditions in order to acclimatize. Five of the stadiums are new or re-built and the other five have had major renovations to ensure the highest standards for the world’s biggest stage. All of this comes at a cost and the bill for stadium construction will come in at approximately $1.2 billion CAD from national government funds alone, which is a huge number considering the economic state of the country. The profits that FIFA will gather from commercial deals are expected to top $3.5 billion CAD, around 88 per cent of which will be re-invested into the tournament, development programmes, financial assistance to national associations and other projects.

Here in Canada we will be able to witness every moment – from England manager Fabio Capello’s stern glare to Argentinean Lionel Messi’s dizzying runs – live on the CBC (the official match broadcaster). This will make it easy to observe the Cheshire-cat smile of Sepp Blatter, who as the president of FIFA might consider this World Cup his baby. It was Blatter’s dream to have each continental federation host the World Cup on a rotational basis. This will start in 2010 with South Africa and continue to Brazil for the 2014 edition (for which massive delays and problems have already been reported). However, this World Cup has a different feel to it. Blatter’s rotational plan to promote the world’s most popular game is theoretically sound but, in reality, many logistical and security issues have come to the forefront. Although South Africa has the honour of being the first African country to host the tournament, that also comes with massive responsibility. In a country where people like Nelson Mandela fought for decades to end the Apartheid system, it is only fitting that he will be able to see such a grand event come to his nation. The people of South Africa fully deserve to host such a prestigious event but in a nation where the unemployment rate is 25 per cent and many people fight to survive in shanty towns, will the flash-in-the-pan attention of the World Cup really change any of this?

Then there is the issue of security. Al-Qaeda has publicly announced terrorist threats against the United States, Germany, England, Italy, France and, most recently, Denmark and Holland. In a country where local crime and security is also a constant concern, the addition of terrorist threats from abroad and African soccer’s internal terror concerns means that a degree of concern is justified. Earlier this year, the Togo national team’s bus was riddled with bullets from Angolan gunmen during the African Cup of Nations tournament, killing the bus driver and injuring nine others. Despite all this, if you ask any of the players if this is a concern to them, they will probably say they are more worried about Spain’s unrelenting attacking play or England’s strength in the air.

So who are the teams to watch and which players will truly stand out? From the moment the first game kicks off at Soccer City – Johannesburg’s 95,000-seat stadium – to the final whistle that will close the tournament at the same venue, you want to be in the know. This can be neatly packaged using the number 11, which is symbolic to this tournament in more than a few ways. Firstly, there are 11 players in a team. Jabulani, the name given to the official Adidas match ball, has 11 colours on it to honour each of South Africa’s 11 official languages. Here is 11/11; the best teams and respected players to keep an eye on.

Flag_italyItaly is the defending World Champion and one of the most difficult teams in the world to beat due to their defensive mastery of the game. Their manager, Marcello Lippi (“Il Mister”), has assembled a team with nine returning champions, which has drawn criticism from the Italian press that the team is too old and slow. The omission of controversial fantasista Antonio Casssano has also been hugely unpopular with the tifosi (fans). However, if Lippi can do what he does best – unite the group and exploit their strengths – then no one will notice the player’s walking sticks on the bench. Look to Cannavaro and Buffon for leadership, while the spark will have to come from De Rossi and goals from Di Natale if the Azzurri want to emulate their 1934 and 1938 Championship consecutive victories.

Flag_BrazilBrazil are always favourites to win the trophy, and rightfully so. Brazilians play with flair and skill, and they have Kaká. The engine behind the big yellow machine can run around players while smiling (a role he needs to fill since Dunga has left out Ronaldinho). Expect the Selecao to go far, especially since Kaká’s pearly whites haven’t gleamed much this season at Real Madrid.

Flag_ArgentinaArgentina’s appetite for glory this time around parallels the country’s love for steak, and the Albiceleste will try to make mincemeat of the majority of their opponents with Ballon d’or and FIFA World Player of the Year, Lionel Messi, leading the attack. Another deadly attacker is Diego Milito, who is lethal in front of goal; just ask Bayern Munich’s Daniel van Buyten after Milito turned him around like a skewer on the grill for his second goal of the game in the Champions League final. Diego Maradona is the team’s coach, which means anything is possible, including coaching tips on how to use their “hand of God” when in front of goal. El pibe de oro claims that he will strip and run naked if Argentina wins the World Cup. That alone may be worth the victory.

Flag_SpainSpain’s victory in the 2008 European Champion helped them finally overcome the taboo that haunted the team for years – underperforming when it counted most. As a result, they have to be serious contenders to lift the cup, especially with Villa, Xavi and the clinical Fernando Torres leading the way. La Furia Roja is definitely one of the most exciting teams to watch, with offence being their forte. Expect them to score a boat-load of goals but if they lose focus (as they did in losing to the U.S. in the Confederation Cup semi-final last year), they may be looking red for all the wrong reasons.

Flag_EnglandEngland has followed the same pattern as Spain in past tournaments by not being able to close the deal; until the arrival of their new manager, Fabio Capello. Striking fear into everyone, including his players, is something to which the English have responded well. They won their qualifying group comfortably and Capello has brought a serious tone to the media circus that is English football. Despite the unfortunate injury to David Beckham and the sex scandal involving John Terry, if England can keep it together and if Capello doesn’t eat any of his players, they have their best chance in years to go all the way. Wayne Rooney has the potential to win the Golden Boot for scoring the most goals and if he can stay healthy he could be one of the stars of this edition in South Africa.

Flag_HollandHolland is the Jekyll and Hyde of soccer. They are capable of putting in class performances and beating any team but their lapses and lack of success when the time is right has meant that the inventors of Total Football are usually in Total Vacation Mode when the grand final rolls around. Despite having produced some of the greatest players in history – Van Basten, Gullit, Cruyff, and even modern-day incredibles such as Van Percie, Robben and Inter’s Champions League monster Sneijder – the Oranje leave much to be desired. In qualifying they won their group by a massive 14 points and this could be the year that Holland, like Spain, finally breaks their winless streak.

Flag_France-PortugalThese next two teams might very well be grouped in the same category: lucky to be in the World Cup finals. France and Portugal barely scraped through their qualifying groups and the infamous Thierry Henry hand-pass that knocked out Ireland caused an eruption of anger towards Les Bleus and FIFA alike. The French are not liked by many to begin with, and with the much maligned Raymond Domenech as their coach and with karma against them, the 2006 finalists might be remembered like the final image of Zinadine Zidane in his last game: walking off the pitch with their heads hanging down in shame. Portugal is really a one-man show, and when Cristiano Ronaldo is not stopping for a photo shoot during the middle of the game, he’s trying to win it on his own. If soccer has taught us anything, it’s that the team wins, not individuals, in which case Ronaldo has no supporting cast. He’ll most likely make a few spectacular plays and maybe even score a few goals, but with Portugal paired up in the Group of Death with Brazil and Ivory Coast, don’t expect them to get out of their group. Perhaps France and Portugal could save some money and take the same flight back to Europe.

Flag_GermanyAny World Cup article would be lacking greatly if it didn’t give respect to the Germans. Die Mannschaft have been one of the most consistent teams in the history of the tournament and they are continually written off, to the peril of many teams. It is almost as certain as death and taxes that the Germans will be there in one way or another. Despite the incredible loss of their captain, Michael Ballack, to injury just before the tournament, Germany has the mental strength and solid foundation to find a way. Look to Bastian Schweinsteiger to pick up the slack from Ballack. The country that makes some of the best automobiles in the world is truly the machine that won’t break down.

FFlag_Ivory-Ghanainally, the last two teams to mention here are those that could really make a mark in the tournament. African nations have been on the bubble, ready to break out on the international scene for some time, and having the World Cup on their continent could be enough to finally see a breakthrough. The Ivory Coast has one of the world’s best strikers in Didier Drogba and if he can keep his head he could challenge Rooney for the Golden Boot. The Elephants are lightning fast and with the skill to match, Brazil and Portugal might not be the only ones scratching their heads asking, “What just happened?” Ghana was the African Cup of Nations finalists and with the experience they gained in 2006, the Black Stars still have a lot of young talent that could take some teams by surprise.  Unfortunately, the loss of Michael Essien will hamper their efforts but the enthusiasm and leadership of Sulley Muntari could be enough to see this dark horse team cause a few upsets along the way.

These are the 11 teams to watch for, and from June 11th to July 11th, they – and possibly even a few others from the 32 competing nations – will dazzle, mesmerize and make us cry and shout. This all comes part and parcel with the greatest sporting spectacle in the world. If all goes well and South Africa is able to overcome its challenges, then this World Cup (like USA in 1994 and Korea Japan in 2002) will be another continental first and a huge success. That would be good news for Sepp Blatter, whose rotational plan may remain for a while to come.



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