faces of Africa
Being in South Africa for the World Cup has really been immense. The national pride in hosting the tournament has often literally brought tears to the eyes of a nation. Even though I have paid over the odds everywhere I have travelled and was burning through dollars like there was no tomorrow in Cape Town.
Ghana waved the flag for Africa, England got humbled and a few heads rolled – but unfortunately not the head of the blinkered and Amish-like Sepp Blatter. Spare a thought for Brazilian coach Dunga, who loses his job because his team lost in the quarter finals, based on 90 minutes against the Dutch. And then contrast that to Diego Maradona who received a hero’s welcome after his side was hammered at the same stage by Germany. Italian born coach of England keeps his job too.
After England’s demise, my support predominantly turned to beloved South America only to see their game (cynically) stifled by the dullness of the European style of in particular the Dutch and Germans. From lucky talisman for England at PE to Kiss of Death merchant in the quarter finals.
As each team fell away i thought of friends in far off places, countries and continents. Indeed often we would witness first-hand , what Steve referred to as the flotsam and jetsam of supporters making the track back to their home countries after the sharp bitter taste of defeat.
The semis were difficult to call. The Uruguayans and the Dutch shared a none too thrilling 5 goal “thriller”, and the Spanish deservedly put out the “one for the future” German team. Their trashing of England and Argentina were quite something, but the Germans couldn’t find some more of the same for the dedicated Spanish.
The Third place play-off is always more open and interesting as a spectacle than the final and this year was no exception with Germany 3 – 2 victors against Uruguay in an entertaining match.
The Spanish versus Dutch final might imply to many that European football is healthy, and truly the best in the World, but it is a mirage. To watch the Brazilians or Argentina play their attacking, high movement, silky and indeed “sexy” soccer tells a completely different story. Like many of the first round matches, nobody wants to commit a blunder not least, in the final of such an important stage.
Indeed, Spain and The Netherlands tactical “European” style blunt, and in many cases unnecessarily bruise each other out and you know that one goal will settle it. Six bookings within a 12 minute period by English referee Howard Webb in the first thirty minutes was absurd and a sending off looked inevitable with some 35 free kicks given throughout the 120+ minutes.
Despite their surprising loss to the Swiss in the first match, Spain are indeed probably worthy champions. After all, the vast majority of the team all play for Barcelona. However, any team that can knock out Brazil deserve a special medal in itself, and to have lost three finals now, the Dutch must be heartbroken.
Cold and windy last night, we quit plans to head to the Fan Fest in the playing field in Port St Johns and watch from Amapondo Back Packers. It’s full, but not packed. 90% are locals with a smattering of “foreigners”. None are Spanish, but Jan is Dutch who lives and works here. Like myself, most are neutral spectators. Everyone is up for the pre-match entertainment in Jo’burg, and even if Zuma is not a popular President, his genuine appreciation to all the the people of South Africa in their remarkable achievements in hosting such a competent World Cup is clapped.
Even though the exit of Bafana Bafana dampened some of the spirit of our hosts, the tournament has become a beacon for what can be done for this badly broken country. After all apartheid was only eventually overturned in 1994 and in many ways this is a country of rebirth and infancy. The pride in the hosting of the tournament was colossus, let alone the smoothness that they pulled it off. It might have taken 19 previous World Cup competitions, but Africa is firmly on the football map now. The generosity, openness and friendliness of South Africans (both Black and White) has been serendipitous.
As for my original circa 2006 red England shirt, i pass it on to Dutch Jan who helps run the Amapondo Childrens’ Project – a present from some colleagues in Hong Kong, i cannot face the humiliation of wearing it again – well certainly for the rest of my journey through Africa.
Yes, i can play the vuvuzela, but no, i certainly won’t miss them.
The World Cup happens just once every four years, but binds the World together for a month by a shared love of “the beautiful game” that transcends borders and languages. In my “global citizen” eyes” there is nothing sweeter.
Thoughts are already weighing up the possibilities of being back in Brazil for the next World Cup tournament in 2014.