Africa’s World Cup

I know by now that even hardened soccer fans must be getting sick of news of the world cup and ‘how much it is doing for Africa’.  But as an African in exile, I admit to have been quite moved by events over the past few weeks.

The opening ceremony was spectacular, and rather than than just the usual dull moving arrangements of oddly shaped objects, this ceremony had a real Africa vibe to it.  But what really raised the hairs on the back of my neck was the sight of Bafana Bafana lining up in the tunnel, about to take to the field to play Mexico in the opening game.  As the Mexicans stood motionless, facing the front with dead-pan faces, the South African team were singing, dancing and clapping with huge smiles on their faces.  This moment captured the very reason why Africa deserved to host the world cup; because they offer something completely unique that no other continent could come close to.

If the first goal of the tournament was anything to go by, I began to think that Bafana Bafana could surprise everyone and perhaps make it past the last 16.  But unfortunatley that was not to be; their draw with Mexico and loss to Uruguay put them out of contention.  Their final match against France brought them within 2 goals of making it out of their group, but events did not go their way.  They won 2-1, but goal difference ruled them out of the competition.  The reaction by the South African public to Bafana Bafana’s early exit was admirable, they were genuinely proud or their team and thanked them for three exciting matches, completely different to the witch-hunts and damning media reports faced by some European teams.

It was during this match that I realised how much everybody wanted them to go through to the next round, including the British television presenters who unashamedly threw their objectivity out the window.  I think this was a proud moment for South Africa; although the hosts had not done was well as they hoped, they had won the hearts of many people; what more could they have asked for?

Once the final 16 teams had been determined, Ghana had the responsibility of carrying Africa’s hopes.  But their exit on penalties still makes me ill when I recall it.  It was not only their loss, but the manner of their loss which prompted so much disappointment around the world.  A deliberate hand ball by a Uruguayan player led to a penalty that could have won Ghana the game, but it was missed and the ensuing penalty shoot-out went the way of the South Americans.  For all FIFA’s efforts of publicising the concept of fair play during the world cup, I could not think of a more unfair exit from the world cup.

The final has come and gone, with Spain rightfully lifting the trophy on Sunday night.  The congratulations and applauds towards South Africa for their successful hosting of the event are refreshing.  There was no shortage of cynics and nay-sayers in the weeks leading up to the event, with talk of terrorist attacks, unfinished stadiums, machete-wielding gangs roaming the streets and even danger of snakes to the English team at their hotel in Rustenburg.  The disgusting journalism that promoted these ideas has been shown up for what it is, illustrated by the arrest of a Sunday Mirror journalist  for orchestrating a break-in of the English changeroom after their game against Algeria.  I hope this has taught the media to be less cynical of South Africa and its readers to be more wary of what they read.

On the radio after the final, one person questioned when next the world cup will be held in Africa.  I thought this was a very poignant question to ask after the final.  It will be many years until South Africa can host it again, so which other country has the money and infrastructure to host the tournament?  Unfortunately not a lot of places spring to mind.  Nigeria has the money and the fan base, but it also has massive problems with corruption and oil-related violence.  Perhaps a joint East African tournament could be held? This is unlikely after the recent bombing in Uganda.  Hopefully in a few years this will not be the case, and South Africa has shown that the benefits of hosting this event are well worth the effort.  I look forward to that day, and the day an African team lifts the coveted trophy of the soccer world cup.

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Published in: on July 15, 2010 at 5:38 pm  Leave a Comment  

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