I was told by one of my Fifa contacts that there was some official concern that very few people in SA are talking about or even aware of the Confederations Cup tournament. This is a major concern for Fifa and the LOC as the Confederations Cup is a 'mini World Cup' that includes the continental champions from around the world including the likes of Brazil, Italy and Spain. It also includes the USA, Egypt and Iraq, so it isn't exactly a mini-replica, but it gives South Africans an opportunity to see some great football played by some great teams.
So why the lack of interest?
I think many of us have been distracted by other events over the past few months, and all the talk of 2010 has somehow got our brains ignoring events in 2009, except for perhaps the elections. I also sense that the Euro 2008 tournament was enough of a distraction for a lot of fans and sponsors, but now that the next major tournament that will feature teams from Europe will be the Confederations Cup in SA in 2009, I get the impression that for the first time since the actual Fifa 2010 draw, the eyes of the world will once again turn towards South Africa.
Butterflies in my stomach
Manchester United are here in two weeks, albeit without some of their top stars, but will bring enough star performers to warrant massive interest from local football fans. I think it is the first time that the reigning Champions League winners will perform in South Africa, although United have graced our shores before, just not in the guise of champions. This is the start of what I believe will be a two year relationship with international football. Top club sides and national teams will start coming over here, having a look around, getting used to the conditions and making sure they are prepared for matches and making the most of the publicity that will be generated by visits to the host nation.
I have been to four of the stadium development sites and I get butterflies in my stomach when I see how much work has been completed already. I recently saw a whole lot of photographs of the Gautrain development - underground photos - and you really only get a sense of how far they have come when you see these. Ninety percent of the work is done underground, so it is unfair to judge the progress of this project by what you see above ground.
Of course there are a lot of problems at the moment and the tough economic climate added to the political uncertainty and the ubiquitous crime elements all add to a negative feeling and I don't want to downplay these. But the reality is that we have less than 11 months to get ready for the Confederations Cup, and less than two years for the World Cup.
Bafana's recent performances (or lack of) have jolted the local soccer fraternity, but I would argue that our performances in the actual tournament should not be the measure of how we gauge the success of the tournament as a whole.
Maybe we expect too much from our football team. We are only ranked 67th in the world (at the time of writing) and the World Cup only has 32 teams who qualify, so in theory we have "qualified" - albeit as hosts - ahead of 35 teams who are better than us. That's a great achievement!
I am committing myself to supporting our national team and will do everything to be at every one of their home matches and maybe even some of their away ones. We have to support our team; it's as simple as that.
The results will come, but success in 2010 should also be measured by how many South Africans get involved in the tournament and how many get behind making all the little parts work.
George represented South Africa during the 1994 Soccer World Cup qualifiers.
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