From practically every window across this great African nation drape the colours of the South African flag, the most sought-after item here in the run-up to Friday’s opening of the FIFA World Cup Finals, Africa’s first. Once again, sport brings the multiple ethnic groups of South Africa together.
As we saw in the movie Invictus, sport is a great builder of nations. Just as South Africa came together for the World Rugby Championship in 1995, today fifteen years later, Soccer is the powerhouse moving the various sections of South Africa’s society together in a growing sense of nationhood.
South Africa’s President, Jacob Zuma, stated in a press conference in Tshwane/Pretoria yesterday that his country feels both “blessed and humbled” to have been chosen to host the World Cup and stated that from the date when FIFA President Joseph Blatter announced the decision on May 15, 2004, “we knew…that our nation would never be the same again”.
President Zuma went further: “The enthusiasm, joy and excitement that has engulfed the entire nation in recent weeks has not been witnessed since President Mandela was released from prison”.
England hit by injuries, again
Once again, England’s World Cup Finals are beset by injuries. First it was David Beckham, and now the captain Rio Ferdinand, both of whom will provide support and experience to the boot room during the tournament. Wayne Rooney, for now, seems set to start the line-up against the USA in Rustenburg on Saturday. He scored a goal himself and made one for Joe Cole against local South African club Platinum Stars today after Jermain Defoe had given England an early lead; (3-0).
Algeria and Slovenia, who knocked out Russia, are the other teams in Group C.
Holland’s Arjen Robben is also fighting against a hamstring injury but vows to “work incredibly hard” to be fit for the opening game against Denmark in Johannesburg on June 14 (Group E). Holland looked red-hot during Saturday’s 6-1 annihilation of Hungary. Japan and Cameroon make up the group.
Despite Argentina’s near disastrous campaign, scraping through to reach the finals with extreme difficulty, defender Martin Demichchelis has pointed out that the two-times champions, led by Diego Maradona (who has vowed to run naked through Buenos Aires if Argentina win the Cup) are far from being a push-over. The last three games have resulted in three wins and three clean sheets, 1-0 over Germany (away), 4-0 over Haiti and 5-0 against Canada, both at home.
Argentina take on Nigeria on June 12 in Johannesburg (Group B). Greece and the Republic of Korea (South) make up the group.
Portugal – the home factor?
Portugal has nearly one million immigrants or descendants of immigrants in South Africa, a fact which will see Cristiano Ronaldo and his colleagues enjoy the support of the second-largest fan-base after host nation South Africa. The Portuguese team was greeted by 5,000 flag-waving, cheering fans upon arrival at Magaliesburg this weekend. Brazil demolished Tanzania 5-0 in their last training game before the championships begin, for Brazil, against DPR Korea in Johannesburg on June 15.
Portugal face Ivory Coast in their first game at Nelson Mandela Bay/Port Elizabeth, also on June 15.
Groups, teams and FIFA ranking
Group A France (9), Uruguay (16), Mexico (17), Rep. South Africa, (host), 83
Group B Argentina (7), Greece (13), Nigeria (21), Rep. Korea (S.) 47
Group C England (8), USA (14), Slovenia (25), Algeria (30)
Group D Germany (6), Serbia (15), Australia (20), Ghana (32)
Group E Netherlands (4), Cameroon (19), Denmark (36), Japan (45)
Group F Italy (5), Paraguay (31), Slovakia (34), New Zealand (78)
Group G Brazil (1), Portugal (3), Ivory Coast (27), DPR Korea (N.) (105)
Group H Spain (2), Chile (18), Switzerland (24), Honduras (38)