Four years ago, Germany, a country with the most divided of backgrounds, and the most difficult of identities hosted the greatest footballing extravaganza, the
On May 15, 2004 FIFA afforded some very similar opportunities as they announced South Africa would host the 2010 event. The concepts of South Africa and apartheid go hand in hand, but this is now the chance to break down some more barriers, for the country to unite and to move on together from its grim and benighted past. Just as four years ago with Germany, it is football that creates this opportunity to do so much more than play host to the greatest footballers on the planet, and one swift glance at the build-up to the tournament suggests the South Africans are embracing the opportunity.
No-one could possibly begrudge the South African people their World Cup as they rejoice at home, on the streets, at work, buzzing with energy, enthusiasm and excitement in anticipation of what, effectively, they themselves will make one of the most effervescent World Cups in memory. The South African flags are flying, the burst of colours and the boom of noise are all part and parcel of the African way, and despite the majority of us outsiders having an urge to reach for the mute button on the television remote to rescue ourselves from the relentless belching of irritable vuvuzela tones, the urge should be resisted in order to give South Africa, its people and its culture due respect. The vuvuzela is not just an instrument to create a din or an atmosphere, the monstrous buzz they manufacture is an expression of their identity and an instrument that will help to unite. It should also aid in driving and motivating their team to success.
Despite similarities off the pitch, the prospect of South Africa emulating Germany’s achievement of finishing third in their own tournament is ridiculously unlikely. Success for South Africa however, would simply mean progression from their group into the last 16, and that is far from out of the question. With no host nation ever failing to progress to the knockout stages, the ignominy of doing so would be fairly vast. However, with Carlos Alberto Parreira at the helm and players with Premier League experience such as Aaron Mokoena and Steven Pienaar, do not be surprised if they beat Mexico in today’s opening game. Some of the lesser-known players in the squad, namely Tsepo Masilela and MacBeth Sibaya, in fact sampled Champions League football with Maccabi Haifa and Rubin Kazan respectively last season, while Katlego Mphela and Bernard Parker are more than capable of finding the net for Bafana Bafana.
In a few hours the moment South Africa has been waiting for will be upon us. Wouldn’t it be marvellous if South Africa were to win today? Not just because a successful host nation emboldens the tournament or because everyone loves an underdog. The last word on this momentous day should only rightly go to the inspirational Nelson Mandela, and although the last of his following words may tickle some uneasily, they are wise words all the same: “If there is one thing on the planet that has the power to bind people, it is soccer.”