World Cup hopefuls head up for air
World Cup organisers had plans to spread the 32 finalists for the 2010 tournament across South Africa, giving every corner of the country a chance to feel a little of the fever close at hand.
While the matches are only being played at 10 venues in nine cities, the team bases would have allowed for a wider spread, with the opportunity to watch a training session becoming almost as valuable a commodity as a match ticket for star-starved supporters away from the World Cup mainstream.
South Africa has a sparking coastline, lots of resorts of varying standards plus the interior of the country also enjoys a sophisticated tourist infrastructure.
There are many options from which teams can choose a base for the 2010 tournament and the major countries, qualified or not, have already been to South Africa to make their selection. Some coastal towns have done extensive marketing to try and attract a major football-playing nation to their location and a chance to share in the World Cup spotlight.
But to the horror of the 2010 organisers the vast majority of teams are plumping for a place at altitude, for the distinct advantage they feel it gives them.
Most national coaches, who have already been to South Africa on inspection visits, have demanded they stay and train up on high ground in Gauteng, the province that incorporates the greater Johannesburg and Pretoria area, where the air is thinner and the training therefore more effective. It is likely the vast majority of the teams will be cloistered together in a radius of some 150 sq km.
Only France, Sweden and Paraguay have elected so far to set up a coastal base, although so far only the latter have secured qualification to the 2010 tournament.
France have booked a facility at George on the southern Cape coast after their coach Raymond Domenech personally came to look at several options. Whether he’ll make it to the World Cup next year remains to be seen, even if France do make it through November’s Europe play-offs.
Paraguay are heading to the Eastern Cape while the Swedes have booked in at Durban, but must still win several key qualifiers before they can move in!
Brazil have booked a spot in Bloemfontein while England will be based at Sun City but the most popular venue is Pretoria. Argentina, Germany, Italy, Mexico and the USA have booked hotels or guest lodges in the capital. Italy are to stay at the same lodge where they spent a unsuccessful Confederations Cup and also use the same school for their training.
German coach Joachim Loew also insisted on a base at altitude for his side while Argentina sent their 1986 winning coach Carlos Bilardo, now an advisor to Diego Maradona, to check out facilities. They want the thin air too.
Japan and Switzerland have booked in Johannesburg and the Dutch have done a deal with South African premier league club Wits University to use their facilities and, in turn, are building extra pitches and an improved club house for the Johannesburg-based club. They have already also started a training exchange programme and promise to keep it up long past the 2010 tournament.
PHOTO: South Africa’s coach Joel Santana and the World Cup 2010 mascot applaud during a friendly soccer match against Germany in Leverkusen September 5, 2009. REUTERS/Ina Fassbender