Reuters Soccer Blog
World Soccer views and news
The year 1964 was a highly significant one in the fight against Apartheid: Nelson Mandela was imprisoned on Robben Island and FIFA suspended South Africa from football because of the legalised racist policies of its Government.
If anyone had suggested then that one day FIFA’s Executive Committee would meet on the outcrop off the coast of Cape Town on the eve of the draw for South Africa’s World Cup, they would have been derided as a fantasist.
But that is exactly what happened on Thursday. FIFA president Sepp Blatter and the 24 most important men in world soccer, plus around 250 members of the media and other helpers, spent a day on the island where Mandela, and current South African President Jacob Zuma were incarcerated for years of their lives.
Thousands of opponents of the Apartheid regime were imprisoned on the island, but for FIFA, and for the world at large, Robben Island is not just a sombre place with a dreadful past, but it is also a symbol of hope.
Just a heads up we will be running a live World Cup draw blog on this site from around 1630 GMT on Friday so feel free to join in the fun.
Which seeded teams will be the unlucky ones to get France or Portugal? Will hosts South Africa get a fortunate draw?
Carlos Alberto Parreira’s return as South Africa coach has been widely pilloried in the country’s media, a stark contrast to the almost universal approval he received when he took the job the first time round in late 2006.
Parreira has been enticed back in the wake of the firing of compatriot Joel Santana last week, as the World Cup hosts battle to drag their national side out of a spiral of long-term mediocrity.
Joel Santana arrived for what he thought was a routine review of his work with his South African Football Association bosses on Monday and within hours was packing his bags for a return to Brazil, ending his tenure as the 15th coach employed by South Africa in the last 17 years.
The run of poor results in recent internationals plus last year’s early elimination from the African Nations Cup qualifiers, had left Bafana Bafana in deep crisis, a team without any confidence or direction and running out of time before hosting the 2010 World Cup finals.
Draw for the European World Cup playoffs:
Republic of Ireland v France
Portugal v Bosnia-Herzegovina
Greece v Ukraine
Russia v Slovenia
Two-legged ties to be played on Nov 14 and 18.
Is that the sound of a World Cup playoff shock I hear? France, 2006 runners-up, will have to beat Giovanni Trapattoni’s Ireland over two legs to reach South Africa next year and that is no easy feat.
South Africa coach Joel Santana has been given two more games to show progress with his side or face being fired just six months before the country hosts the 2010 World Cup finals.
A growing clamour for the departure of the 60-year-old, who came into the job 18 months ago after Carlos Alberto Parreira was forced to quit because of his wife’s illness, has been given momentum by two lethargic performances in Norway and Iceland.
Some of football’s biggest names, including Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, are in danger of missing out on next year’s World Cup, as countries such as Argentina, Portugal and France struggle in qualification.
Most, if not quite all of them, may make it in the end, of course, but for a bit of pre-weekend qualifier fun, here’s my stab at a world XI wtill fretting over their places at South Africa 2010.
from Left field:
It had long been decided that Italy's rugby team would host world champions South Africa in Florence on Saturday Nov. 21.
Then soccer got in the way. Fiorentina, who use Florence's only big stadium the Stadio Franchi, were due to play Parma at home on the 22nd but when they were drawn to play at home on Tuesday Nov. 24 against Olympique Lyon in the Champions League, the Parma game was moved to the 21st.
So often ahead of a great sporting event, there is little evidence of a city’s awareness that it is hosting something special, like last year’s Euro2008 in Austria and Switzerland. Not so Argentina’s big match with arch football enemies Brazil in this riverside city 300 km north of Buenos Aires, home to a bitter rivalry of its own between Rosario Central and Newell’s Old Boys.Saturday’s World Cup qualifier is the talk of the town which was surprisingly offered the match in June after national team coach Diego Maradona criticized River Plate’s Monumental stadium in Buenos Aires.Fans of Rosario’s two big clubs, kept apart to avoid potential fights, have been queuing for tickets since Monday outside their respective stadiums, braving the rain and cold of an Argentine winter in real or makeshift tents.There is a new breed of profiteers called queuers, people who stand in line for a fee and buy your tickets for you, a local journalist said.With so much at stake for Argentina, who need to pick up points to keep their World Cup qualifying hopes alive, there are fears of violence after the match if Maradona’s team lose.Far fewer people will be able to go to the match at Central’s ground, commonly know as the Giant of Arroyito, which holds 41,000, than would have got into River Plate, with a capacity for 65,000.But the move has been a boon for Rosario’s hotels and restaurants, which usually have a quiet time in the winter, and street vendors of football paraphernalia.Light blue and white striped Argentina shirts with Messi and the number 10 on the back are among the biggest selling items.Lionel Messi, a son of Rosario, has never played an official match in his home town, having been whisked away to Barcelona as a mere 13-year-old, forging a career in Europe that has him on the verge of being named the world’s top player.One of the youngsters queuing for tickets, a fan of Messi’s former club Newell’s Old Boys, said: “It’s worth waiting because don’t often see the ‘seleccion’ and even less Leo (Messi), whom we see on TV playing for Barcelona.”Fans hope to see Messi tear Brazil apart and ensure he and Argentina go on to play at the World Cup in South Africa next year.PHOTO: A street vendor sells masks outside Rosario Central stadium ahead of the World Cup qualifier against Brazil, September 4, 2009. REUTERS/Marcos Brindicci