World Cup Preview: 2010
An African nation hosts soccer's biggest event for the first time
by Catherine McNiff
The 2010 FIFA World Cup, the 19th annual premier international sporting event, will run June 11-July 11, in South Africa.
Thirty-two national teams will play in ten venues in nine cities. The teams are separated into eight groups of four teams each and the teams play a round-robin format, meaning that each team in a group plays the other teams in their group once. Then the top two teams advance to the second round, and the tournament uses a single-elimination format until its conclusion.
Johannesburg's newly reconstructed Soccer City Stadium, with its unique design inspired by the iconic African pot known as the calabash, will host the first and final matches of the World Cup. Game one will be host South Africa vs. Mexico. Italy, the defending World Cup champion, will play its first match June 14 against Paraguay; and the United States will face England on June 12.
A Disappointed Host
In cities throughout South Africa, cars, businesses, and residences proudly display the colors of their national flag–tangible proof of the excitement the people feel about World Cup soccer coming to their country. But it takes more than home-grown excitement and colorful flags to put on a successful show on the international stage. Slick marketing and strong oversight by FIFA–soccer's international governing body–have left South African event organizers feeling dissatisfied and hordes of fans angry. From the mascot made in China to the official song written by the Colombian pop star Shakira, South Africa has felt more like a hostage than a host. In fact, this event has, until recently, been out of reach to the average South African fan. Because tickets were only available online, cash-paying fans and customers without Internet access were simply out of luck. But South Africans spoke up, complaining to both local organizers and FIFA executives via radio talk shows. Since FIFA recognized its mistake and began over-the-counter ticket sales April 15, more than 230,000 tickets have been snatched up, launching South Africa to the top of the list of countries for total number of tickets sold, with over one million.
With a Smart Phone, You've Got Game
This is a World Cup of firsts. Hosted by an African nation for the first time, the 2010 World Cup will be the most accessible in history. True, flights to South Africa are prohibitively expensive for all but the most die-hard or deep-pocketed fans, but if you have a smart phone, you've got game. With free apps (and affordable upgrades) that will run on the iPad, iTouch, BlackBerry, Palm, and Android, you don't have to worry about missing a single shot. ESPN's 2010 World Cup sets the standard, with team analyses, player biographies, historical background, and–with a premium upgrade–live play-by-play, audio feed, scoring alerts, and video highlights. The Fox soccer channel app is designed as an add-on to existing TV coverage, with expert commentary, but no game video. Some other apps to check out include Univision Futbol/Copa Mundial 2010, Goal.com, XM Sirius, South Africa 2010 Tracker, 2010 South Africa Live, 2010 World Cup News, and-just for fun-Vuvuzela 2010, an app that brings you the iconic plastic horn and its distinctly unmelodious trumpeting.
The United States squad–the Stars and Stripes–will try to make their poor showing at the 2006 World Cup a distant memory, instead focusing on building on their second-place finish at the FIFA Confederations Cup South Africa 2009. For World Cup 2010, the U.S. team qualified in first place in the final six-team Hexagonal phase of North America, Central America, and Caribbean Zone qualifiers. Under the experienced hand of coach Bob Bradley, Star player Landon Donovan is set and ready to show off his skill, striker Jozy Altidore is nursing an injured ankle, but is sporting a megawatt smile and million-dollar attitude, and the rest of the 23-man team is pumped up and ready to tackle England in the World Cup opener in Rustenburg on Saturday, June 12, 2010.
Bafana Bafana is the home team of South Africa–the local favorite, of course–but probably not a team that will emerge victorious from Group A, which is chock full of experienced teams including two-time champion Uruguay, 2006 runner-up France, and football-savvy Mexico.
Group B consists of another two-time winner, Argentina, versus Nigeria, Korea Republic, and Greece.
Predictions (especially across the pond) put England in the best position to claim the cup, but team USA, with new depth and experience, is determined to leave England and the rest of Group C, Slovenia and Algeria, behind.
Battling in Group D will be Germany, who shares the record for most World Cup finals with Brazil, Australia, Ghana, and Serbia–all top qualifiers.
Expect to see stiff competition in Group E, with the European teams, third-ranked Netherlands and solid Denmark, pitted against Asian competitor Japan, and the finals-experienced African team Cameroon.
By default, one might pick Italy to emerge at the top of Group F, but don't discount experienced Paraguay, impressive qualifier Slovakia, and nothing-to-lose, everything-to-gain New Zealand.
At the bottom of the 32 nations vying for World Cup glory, North Korea faces an uphill battle to emerge as one of two victors from the so-called Group of Death (Group G), which also includes Brazil, a five-time champion; Portugal, a 2006 semifinalist; and the Ivory Coast, an African power led by one of the world's best forwards, Didier Drogba.
Reigning Euro 2008 champion Spain is the team to beat in Group H, where Switzerland, Chile, and Honduras will try to do just that.
In 1995 in Ellis Park, Johannesburg, the South African rugby team won the World Cup. As Nelson Mandela lifted the trophy in a triumphant gesture, the image was captured and sent around the world and became a symbol of South Africa's victory over apartheid and the hope for a democratic future.
Hopes run high that this World Cup will have a synergizing effect on the host country. The anticipation in the air and excitement in the streets have been compared to Mandela's release from prison in 1990, and World Cup ticket lines have been likened to the lines for the first democratic election in 1994. Win or lose, as the crowds pour into that that iconic stadium, they will certainly feel the pulse of national pride, and hear the joy of South Africa's future in every vuvuzela blast.