Stoppage Time – International Football Blog

FIFA World Cup – 24 Hours To Go

Posted in International Football by peterbein on June 10, 2010
Nelson Mandela

Former South African president Nelson Mandela holds the FIFA World Cup trophy

With only twenty four hours to go until the start of the FIFA World Cup in South Africa the excitement levels are beginning to reach fever pitch and no more so than with yours truly. This is the first World Cup tournament that I will be blogging about and there will something to write about on most days with the calendar for the next month taken up with 64 games in 32 days. It will be a fantastic showpiece for the African continent, which hosts the tournament for the first time ever, and Stoppage Time – International Football Blog will provide you with opinion and reports from the world’s biggest sporting event.

The first ever FIFA World Cup tournament that I remember watching on the television as a child was the 1986 event in Mexico and the memories of Diego Maradona’s ‘Hand of God’ goal followed by his wonderful second in Argentina’s 2-1 win over England are the most poignant in my mind. Four years later was, without doubt, the World Cup that I enjoyed the most in my life so far. Italia 90 may not have contained the most exciting football ever but, as somebody resident in England, it was a special mood which gripped the nation as the Three Lions unexpectedly reached the semi-finals only to lose via the lottery of penalty kicks and, thus, denied a place in the final in which, I have a feeling, would’ve seen England get revenge on El Diego and his petulant Argentina side. The 1994 tournament entered new territory and saw the United States of America host the event for the first time and, from a commercial point of view, was a success which has stood the game in that country in good stead ever since. However the final was pretty poor (only a tiny bit worse than the 1990 final between West Germany and Argentina in my opinion) and was only memorable in that Brazil won their first world title for twenty four years. The 1998 tournament was a decent spectacle and lightened up by a French side with the marvellous talent of Zinedine Zidane, whose two goals in the final against Brazil capped off the tournament in style. The 2002 tournament saw many shocks in the first jointly hosted event in Japan and South Korea. Japan made it to the second round while their Asian neighbours, unbelievably, made the semi-finals having knocked out Spain and Italy along the way before losing to Germany. It was, if anything, more surreal than anything but it did make a nice change to see new faces in the latter stages even if the eventual finalists (Germany and Brazil) gave that tournament a belated sense of normality. The most recent tournament in 2006 was a resounding success and for the hosts Germany it was very nearly a fairy tale triumph at home to match their 1974 competition win. Only eventual winners Italy denied the Germans the ultimate victory at the semi-final stage and the tournament will forever be remembered for a certain French player’s rush of blood when headbutting Marco Materazzi in the final. Now is time to put all of that behind us as we await this year’s spectacle in South Africa.

So what am I looking forward to the most? First of all it will be interesting to see, after all of the criticism dished out over the last couple of years, whether the event will be an organisational as well as a footballing success. I personally hope that the South Africans make a great job of it, especially after the number of critics increased after the tragic shooting of the Togo national team in January’s African Cup of Nations tournament in Angola. FIFA president Sepp Blatter has often been accused, more often than not  justifiably so, of being more concerned in geopolitics and his decision to ensure that the FIFA World Cup went to South Africa after the setback suffered in the vote for the 2006 event is a case in point. But, no matter what the politics of the situation are, the issue of utmost importance now is that the tournament goes ahead and it succeeds. The country is fanatical about sport and this has been proven since the country’s return back into the international fold in the early 1990s by the hosting of the IRB Rugby World Cup in 1995 and the ICC Cricket World Cup in 2003. With the experience gained from the hosting of such events can the South Africans hope to re-assure the world that they are capable of hosting football’s world showpiece tournament whilst, at the same time, projecting itself as a wonderful country to visit.

Secondly I am looking forward to seeing all of the thirty two teams compete in what I hope and believe will be the most open tournament ever. Many people doubt that the likes of North Korea and New Zealand can get very far but this is the world’s biggest stage for countries of that level to shine and they may prove more difficult to beat than people realize. But even if, as expected, the lesser lights of the tournament get knocked out at the group stage there are still many teams who genuinely harbour realistic hopes of winning the tournament. European champions Spain are many people’s favourites and they may never have a better chance of winning their maiden FIFA World Cup but there will be a decent number of competitors who hope to deny them the title. Fron South America come the usual suspects Argentina and Brazil while the Europeans will depend on the champagne football of teams like Portugal and the Netherlands, the spirit and hard work of England, the ruthless efficiency of Germany, the organisation of Italy and the flair from France. The hopes of African football fans may rest on the shoulders of the Ivory Coast who have many good players plying thier trade in European club football whilst the hosts, although far from amongst the favourites to win, will have a very noisy crowd behind them, not least because of the Vuvuzela horns which will be blown at every opportunity by the fanatical South African supporters.

Stoppage Time – International Football Blog will be casting an eye over the whole tournament and we hope that you will stay with us on this very exciting footballing adventure. To get you in the mood here is the official FIFA World Cup 2010 anthem, entitled “Wavin’ Flag” by K’naan, which I’m sure you’ll become familiar with in the next four weeks:

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