Despite the cold hand of fate cruelly threatening to dampen the spirits of the South African people as we learnt of the death of Nelson Mandela’s great-granddaughter on the morning of one of the country’s most monumental and historic days, the atmosphere at yesterday’s opening game was the most striking, burning and electric you are likely to witness at a football game.
Mandela, South Africa’s peerless godfather, was due to make an appearance at the opening ceremony at Soccer City in Johannesburg and at least experience the tournament’s opening gambit in person, but understandably stayed away. Yet he will surely have watched the irresistible razzmatazz of the opening ceremony and the thrills of the first game at his home, and he will surely have been able to afford himself at least one wide grin as he witnessed the joy on everybody’s faces.
That joy and febrile atmosphere will be on display today too, especially as Nigeria is in action. Although this World Cup is being held specifically in South Africa, the emphasis that this is a celebration of Africa as a whole has been huge. You can therefore rest assured the people of South Africa will be blasting their vuvuzelas just as fiercely in support of their African brothers as they do for Bafana Bafana.
Whether or not Nigeria can get a positive result from their game against Argentina is more doubtful. Lars Lagerback has only been in charge of the Super Eagles for a matter of months after his predecessor, and the man who actually guided them to World Cup qualification, Shaibu Amodu, was dismissed following a disappointing Africa Cup of Nations. This lack of preparation time for the Coach could cost them, and despite having several players who have impressed in the Premier League in their ranks, such as Obafemi Martins, John Utaka and Yakubu Aiyegbeni, the Argentines pose a more than hefty threat with their array of attacking menace.
The other notable game today is of course England’s is clash with the United States. Wayne Rooney’s typical shenanigans in England’s final warm-up fixture against club side Platinum Stars last week, has raised important concerns over his conduct and relationship with referees. The message from FIFA has seemed to be as simple as ‘abuse referees like that in the World Cup, and you’ll get sent off’. It is well known that Fabio Capello has managed to curb Rooney’s volatile temperament sufficiently since taking the England reigns, but he knows as well as the football-mad South Africans who watch the Premier League week in week out, that Rooney’s propensity to hurl spontaneous expletives at officials in the heat of battle is as dangerous as trying to extinguish his passion and verve completely.
The intrigue as to the potential atmosphere at the England-USA game is huge. With the Premier League massively popular in South Africa and England players being idolised by people throughout the country, the vuvuzelas will no doubt be out in force once again. Coupled with the hordes of committed English fanatics belting out the traditional chants, a unique sound and awesome ambience is in the offing.