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Searching for it — not quite feeling it — in Polokwane

Searching for it -- not quite feeling it -- in Polokwane The fan fest sounded like a wild party with the vuvuzela horns booming through the empty streets of Polokwane town, one of the smallest of 10 venues for the first World Cup on African soil. Everyone must be there, we thought as there was little going on for a Saturday night in the northern South African town. Even the local Nandos restaurant on the main street shut by 8 p.m. But on closer inspection the soccer fan fest -- loud as it was -- was also pretty deserted. Soccer fever has yet to reach Polokwane. A sleepy town of just 500,000 people, it was hard to imagine Polokwane, which means place of safety, would host its first World Cup soccer match in less than 24 hours. In Johannesburg or Cape Town you could definitely "feel it". Here we weren't so sure. Driving through the town's eerily deserted streets searching for a restaurant where we could eat and watch the soccer, we discovered that was not an easy find. It was also hard to imagine what long-term benefit the town would see from being a host city. While for the four matches to be played in Polokwane the few hotels on offer for tourists were full, in between there were plenty of rooms at the inn. No team was staying nearby which would bring with it the paraphenalia of adoring fans or news-hungry media and the associated business. Those playing were flown in for pre-match training, again the day of the match and ferried back straight after. Police closed down the roads near the stadium on the edge of town the night before. But those fearing traffic similar to the four-hour long queues witnessed in Johannesburg trying to get to Soocer City need not have bothered. The streets were empty, the car parks empty and -- just 30 minutes before kick-off -- the stadium was half empty. By the second half, the stands were just about three-quarters full, though the blasts of the vuvuzelas compensated for the missing supporters. The Peter Mokaba stadium almost looked like they hadn't had time to finish painting it, with the stark grey concrete of the outer wall in direct contrast with Soccer City in Johannesburg's brightly coloured exterior. The inside was still coated in construction dust and most of the refreshment stands remained shuttered and closed during the match. Just two hours after the players left we found ourselves the lone figures in a dark stadium struggling to see the keyboard as we tapped out the finishing touches to our stories. Even the name of the stadium was controversial. Mokaba was the African National Congress (ANC)'s youth league leader who, like his current counterpart Julius Malema, was fond of the phrase "Kill The Boer," which upset many Afrikaners. Ironically there's not even a local soccer team to make use of the sparkling pitch. Residents said the Rai Stars disbanded long ago and the nearby promising Black Leopards team are based more than 150 kilometres away in a less than World Cup standard stadium. <http://www.blackleopardsfc.com/10_stadium_info.htm> The Dynamos train 100 kilometres away. Neither team play in the country's top league. "You can't help thinking this huge stadium will just be derelict and empty in a few years time," said one hotel worker.

Polokwane StadiumThe soccer fan fest sounded like a wild party with the vuvuzela horns booming through the empty streets of Polokwane town, one of the smallest of 10 venues for the first World Cup on African soil.

Everyone must be there, we thought as there was little happening on a Saturday night in the northern South African town centre.

But on closer inspection the soccer fan fest -- loud as it was -- was also pretty deserted. Soccer fever had yet to reach Polokwane.

A sleepy town of just 500,000 people, it was hard to imagine Polokwane, which means place of safety, would host its first World Cup soccer match in less than 24 hours. In Johannesburg or Cape Town you could definitely "feel it". Here we weren't so sure.

World Cup podcast – day 6

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Join us for our latest look at the goings-on at the World Cup on the day we finally see tournament favourites Spain in action. Kevin Fylan hosts, and is joined by Paul Radford, Mike Collett, Ossian Shine, Andy Cawthorne and Owen Wyatt.

Ball not to blame for goalkeeping howlers

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The standard of goalkeeping in the early stages of this World Cup has not been the best but blame cannot lie with the controversial Jabulani ball.

Keepers and even strikers have criticised the adidas ball for being too light but the makers have said it is the roundest and truest ball ever created.

Reuters World Cup podcast – day 4

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Join us for a late, late podcast from day four at the World Cup in South Africa … a frank look at some of the not so fantastic games we had today and a preview of Brazil v North Korea. Mark Gleeson, Theo Ruizennar, Pete Rutherford and Brian Homewood are the night’s victims.

A rare bright moment for North Koreans

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SOCCER-WORLD/By Jon Herskovitz

Soccer is subversive in North Korea. The North Korean authorities, who try their best to keep the masses in the dark about what goes on in the rest of the world, cannot suppress news about soccer.

A few years ago, the government refused to publish the results of an embarrassing loss to long-time foe Japan in its official media, but according to diplomatic sources in Pyongyang and refugees who fled the state, most of the country knew the results within 24 hours of the match through a word of mouth network that state censors and security agents cannot suppress.

‘You call this noise? What is a million vuvuzelas?’

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SOCCER-WORLD/By Ruona Agbroko

If it hadn’t been for Nigeria’s goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama, the 1-0 defeat to Argentina could have been much worse for the African side. That is one reason why the Nigerian supporter contingent, even if outnumbered by the Argentinian fans, remained upbeat throught the match.

The green-white-green stripes of the Nigerian flag were seen on toddlers, their parents and even foreigners at Ellis Park Stadium in central Johannesburg.

Maradona gets one over on England again

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SOCCER-WORLD/Argentina and England have one of the great soccer rivalries and although they were not playing each other on Saturday Argentina still managed to score a psychological victory over their old foes.

Diego Maradona, whose “Hand of God” goal and wonderful slalom against England in 1986 are among the most iconic images of any World Cup, emerged the undoubted victor with his astonishing touchline sideshow compared to England coach Fabio Capello’s unhappy performance.

World Cup 2010 podcast – day 1

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Join us for our podcast on day one of the first African World Cup, as hosts South Africa prepare to test their growing confidence against unpredictable Mexico in front of 90,000 vuvuzela-blaring fans in Soccer City.

Click the audio box above to hear the thoughts of African football expert Mark Gleeson (@markgleesonfoot), sports editor Paul Radford, soccer editor Mike Collett (@mcfootball), the suave and sophisticated Helen Popper and Ossian Shine (@ossianshine) and your host, Kevin Fylan (@kevinfreuters).

World Cup 2010 podcast 1

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Check out our first, slightly low-tech podcast featuring assorted Reuters football stattos Paul Radford, Mike Collett, Brian Homewood and the voice of African football, Mark Gleeson.

I’ll be here throughout this World Cup to discuss the big issues with our soccer correspondents from around the world. And we hope to have a better microphone next time!

Drogba, Ferdinand…who next for the World Cup curse?

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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.

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