Reuters Soccer Blog
World Soccer views and news
World champions Italy arrived in South Africa on Wednesday but there wasn’t much of a fanfare.
Around twenty fans turned up to greet them at Johannesburg airport, nothing in comparison with the vast numbers of South Africans dancing beneath my window in Pretoria right now. They are blowing their vuvuzelas wildly for no apparent reason, they are just so excited the World Cup kicks off in two days.
There is very little excitement surrounding Italy. Even journalists in their own country have decided they have no hope of successfully defending their title. Half the squad are too old while the other half are barely known outside Italy, they say.
It got me thinking about other defending champions at World Cups. Yes France flopped hugely in 2002 but it wasn’t expected.
A top player seems to get injured on the eve of every major tournament and this year it looks like Didier Drogba and Rio Ferdinand have suffered the World Cup curse.
Ivory Coast captain Drogba is seriously doubtful for the extravaganza after injuring his elbow in a friendly against Japan on Friday.
It’s been a funny build-up to the World Cup for holders Italy.
The words “South Africa” have barely been mentioned in the last week despite the Azzurri being huddled up in an Alpine ski resort trying to get used to altitude conditions.
Hardly anyone has talked about the World Cup with the focus instead being on a new coach after the tournament and which clubs players will be at next season.
So England coach Fabio Capello has been pretty true to his word about only wanting in-form players in his World Cup squad.
Theo Walcott will not be going to South Africa after two patchy friendly performances where he did a lot of running but the end product again just was not there. That hat-trick in qualification in Croatia in the end did nothing for his cause.
The latest will be played out on Saturday when the citadel of black South African football, the Orlando Stadium in Soweto, plays host to a Super 14 rugby match involving the Blue Bulls, the team so beloved by the white Afrikaners.
FIFA is guaranteed massive revenue from the World Cup, primarily through billions of dollars in commercial and television rights, that will fill its coffers for the next four years. But that doesn’t hide the fact that soccer’s governing body has made basic errors in the ticketing structure for the first African edition of the world’s most watched sporting event.
FIFA boss Sepp Blatter has steadfastly supported holding the soccer spectacle in Africa despite a flood of negative reporting from Europe that said the tournament would be a disaster and that nothing would be ready in time. Those naysayers have so far been proved very wrong–the 10 stadiums, half of them stunning new venues–are ready way ahead of kickoff on June 11.
from Africa News blog:
World Cup organisers probably dreamed of a placid, trouble-free final countdown to the soccer spectacular, with all the fears about crime, bad transport and accommodation shortages pushed to the background for Africa's biggest sports extravaganza. Sadly for them, they are getting the opposite. It would be difficult to conjure up a more unfortunate set of events less than 60 days before the tournament. Simmering racial tensions have burst into the open because of the murder of white supremacist Eugene Terre'blanche and the diatribes of Julius Malema, leader of the youth wing of South Africa's ruling African National Congress, who refuses to pipe down despite tough reprimands from President Jacob Zuma and other party officials. Even before what must be looking to hapless officials like a perfect storm, scenes had become commonplace of township residents rioting around South Africa against lack of improvements in their lives some 16 years after the end of apartheid.
To add to the torture for World Cup officials while the spotlight is fixed on South Africa, municipal workers have declared an indefinite strike over wages, threatening the chaotic scenes seen last year when rubbish was strewn over the streets. South Africa's biggest labour federation has threatened strikes during the tournament to protest against big hikes in power prices.
All of this illustrates the point that countries or cities staging major world events suddenly become fixed in an often uncomfortable glare of world attention as the big day approaches. But even by these standards, South Africa looks unfortunate. World Cup officials, led by chief organiser Danny Jordaan, have spent literally years fending off suggestions that soccer fans will be in mortal danger in South Africa, which has one of the globe's highest rates of violent crime. Jordaan and others have repeated a familiar mantra-- the country has staged 150 sports and other events since the end of apartheid with little problem, millions of tourists have enjoyed South Africa's many attractions for years without major criminal attacks and protecting a finite event is a lot less complex than overcoming the national crime wave--especially since 40,000 police have been mobilised to do only that.
Nevertheless, many foreign fans and even visiting journalists are anxious about security and alarmist media reports have undoubtedly deterred some, especially it seems in Germany--hosts of the last event. What could be worse then, as the final countdown begins, than the events of the last week or so? Terre'blanche was hacked and bludgeoned to death on April 3 in a killing whose brutality seemed almost calculated to set off new anxiety about visiting South Africa, even though police believe it was a simple criminal, rather than racial, attack. Terre'blanche's own fringe AWB party lost no time in telling foreign journalists that overseas fans would be in danger during the World Cup and most reports on the killing mentioned the tournament's approach. The most extreme reaction came from the U.K. tabloid the Daily Star which said English fans risked a "machete race war" --sparking howls of protest in South Africa.
All of this has been made a lot worse by Malema, a firebrand demagogue who had hitherto been apparently used by some of the ANC to hit at leftwingers in the party and to mobilise the youth vote, but who now seems to have got out of control. Terre'blanche's supporters say that Malema's insistence on reviving an apartheid-era song "Kill the Boer" -- which has now been banned by the courts --was the direct cause of the murder. Zuma said on Sunday, in an unusually strong reprimand, that Malema's comments and actions, including calling a BBC journalist a bastard and throwing him out of a press conference, were alien to the ruling party. Malema remained defiant despite the rebuke.
Ronaldinho has been left out of Brazil’s squad for next month’s friendly with Ireland, making it highly unlikely he will make Dunga’s list of 23 for June’s World Cup.
It’s quite a come down for the former world player of the year but he has been having a much better season at AC Milan following three years of problems.
David Beckham is in South Africa to help England try to get their bid to host the 2018 World Cup back on track.
Beckham played a similar ambassadorial role for London’s successful bid to stage the 2012 Olympics and as perhaps the most famous player in the world he is clearly an important asset for the FA.