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SWC review: Keep the magic

2010-07-14 14:59
Comment: George Dearnaley

Yes, perhaps this is a few days late, but I really needed some time to look back over the last month and reflect on the Soccer World Cup tournament in all its facets. It doesn’t seem that long ago when we reached the 500 day countdown, and then suddenly it was 300 days, and then 100 and before you knew it we were all glued to screens around the country watching Bafana v Mexico in the opening game!

If we look back now, it seems that the month absolutely flew by, but the reality is that while it was taking place each day, it seemed to last forever. Perhaps it had something to do with waking up early or getting home late after either attending a live match, or a fan park, or hanging out with mates at a sports bar or somebody’s house. Work hours were shorter as everyone found a reason to be near a TV screen around 16:00 on most days. It was a month of carnival and festival and the weather across the country also played its part.

The star players never really shined and there was a new emphasis on team work and possession. Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney, Lionel Messi and even Kaka failed to live up to expectations. The Jabulani ball got the blame for the first 10 days and then the vuvuzela took over as the "star" of the show – and looks set to become South Africa’s number one export in the next few months! 

Bafana united the country and the ‘sea of yellow’ was a reality for the Group stages. Sadly, they went out in the group stages after winning one, drawing one and losing one. The consensus among non-football fans is that they did okay, but the truth is that they under-achieved after millions was spent on coaching and training camps and an enforced shorter domestic league season so that they could have more time to prepare than any of the other teams taking part. But they still went out with their heads high after beating a FIFA Top 10 team for the first time in their history - 2006 runners-up France.

There was humiliation for other super-powers too with reigning champions Italy knocked out in the Group phase after suffering a disastrous campaign culminating with a draw against minnows New Zealand. England were shocking in the Group matches winning only once and scraped through to the Round of 16 where they were smashed 4-1 by a young, vibrant German team who impressed everyone on their way to the semi-finals.

Maradona grabbed a lot of the headlines and hugged a lot of people as Argentina impressed in the early rounds. But his lack of coaching experience at the highest level was rudely exposed in the quarter-finals against the Germans. Star player Messi didn't even score a single goal!

The call for the use of technology grew even louder after two significant incidents. 

Firstly, Frank Lampard’s "no goal" against Germany when the ball bounced a full metre behind the line when England were down 2-1 had every Pom around the globe ranting and raving. All it did was remind the Germans about a certain ‘goal’ at Wembley in 1966.

Carlos Tevez’s opener for Argentina against Mexico from an offside position was the other significant incident and after the replay was shown on the big screen, the linesman almost changed his decision – hence no more TV replays on the big screens of any contentious decisions for the rest of the tournament.

Uruguay's Luis Saurez provided the ultimate villain of the tournament with his ‘save’ on the goal-line against Ghana. His great goals in the previous games were all forgotten as he cheated Ghana out of a semi-final place. Asamoah Gyan, who single-handedly dragged Ghana to the quarter-finals with his goals throughout the tournament, blasted the penalty against the crossbar and Ghana went out in the resultant penalty shoot-out.

Holland and Spain, who both play ‘death by possession’ reached the final at Soccer City. The final provided us with everything: a fantastic closing ceremony, a village idiot running across the field to try and place a cap on the SWC trophy; ferocious tackling; lots of cards; lots of tight decisions; great saves and a glorious goal from a glorious player with only four minutes to go in extra-time. The first World Cup tournament in Africa had a first time winner. Spain also broke the hoodoo of winning the tournament after losing their first match. Xavi, Andres Iniesta and David Villa - with a combined height of around two metres - showed that in football, size really doesn’t matter!

Our host cities were great, local residents came to the party, the organisation, the transport (apart from King Shaka airport for the semi-final!), the support for Bafana Bafana and the enthusiasm across the country for the last month have all combined to make this one of the best World Cups of all time. 

The challenge now is to find ways to keep this momentum, this enthusiasm and this passion for excellence when the world is not watching. Greece hosted the Olympic Games in 2004 and six years later the country is bankrupt and in dire need of financial help. 

Too many people have sacrificed too much and all of us have played our part in making 2010 an unforgettable year for South Africa – we can’t stop now!

George Dearnaley played for Bafana in 1992/93 and tried his luck in England a few times but never made it – because it’s not easy! He’s had six knee operations and knows how hard it is to get up on a cold morning. And he lost a lot of money backing the wrong horse at this year's tournament.

George Dearnaley wrote exclusively for Sport24 for the duration of the Soccer World Cup.

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