WORLD CUP 2010: AFRICA'S FINEST HOUR
Was it South Africa's finest hour as the World Cup tournament ended last Sunday at the Soccer City Stadium, Johannesburg? Yes, it was. And more. It was also Africa's day of glory. Day of grandeur. Of majesty and magnificence. It was a day South Africa did the continent proud.
The tournament kicked off on June 11, 2010, and lasted till July 11. But it began with a lot of concerns. Would it be marred by security lapses, organisational inefficiencies, social upheavals, and all sorts of indiscretion that would portray Africa in bad light? Indeed, the World Cup competition was coming to Africa for the first time since it began in 1930, and not a few sceptics expected Africa to bungle it. Can anything good come out of the dark continent, they asked themselves rather cynically? When the fiesta ended last Sunday, South Africa had acquitted itself creditably, and had done Africa really proud. Every African walked several inches taller. And the cynics stood small, and ate their words.
South Africa 2010, as the greatest sporting event in the world was called, is remarkable in many ways. The keen spirit of competition, the discipline, the de-mystification of the so-called world soccer super powers, the below par performance of African teams, save Ghana, questionable officiating, and the emergence of a new world soccer champion, a nation which has never lifted the trophy before.
There are traditional World Cup winning countries: Brazil, Argentina, Italy, Germany. Between them, they had seemingly appropriated the laurel to themselves, to the detriment of the rest of the world. But South Africa 2010 proved different. None of the traditional winners, except Germany who came third, went beyond the Quarter Finals. Italy, France, and England, three previous winners, never proceeded beyond the group stages. Brazil and Argentina got knocked out in the Quarter Finals, and the stage was eventually set for a Netherlands / Spain final. These were two nations who had never lifted the trophy before. And Spain triumphed 1 - 0 in the final duel, thus bringing the tournament to a refreshing denouement.
African teams, however, did not live up to expectation. As the first World Cup on African soil, it had been touted that it could be the continent's first opportunity to win. Late last year, Ghana had shown the way, lifting the Under-20 World Cup hosted by Egypt, the first time ever by an African country. But the dream of an African victory at the senior World Cup went up in smoke. Nigeria was completely flat-footed, and went out in the group stages. Cameroun, Cote D'Ivoire, Algeria and the hosts, South Africa, put up a better showing. But it did not see them beyond the group stages.
However, Ghana redeemed the image of the continent, playing in the Quarter Finals against Uruguay, and looking good to win the match, till Luis Suarez unsportingly stopped what would have been a winning goal with his hand. He got a red card, but Ghana unfortunately lost the resultant penalty kick, and the ensuing penalty shoot-out. They went out with their heads held high.
We believe South Africa 2010 holds a lot of lessons for nations, for the world football governing body, FIFA, for referees, for soccer players, and for the overall development of the game. Introducing technology into resolving refereeing dilemmas had been a contentious issue over the years. FIFA president, Sepp Blatter, had been one of the stoutest antagonists.
We are glad he is seeing the need for change of mind after referees allowed clear cases of infractions of rules to count as goals, or denied some clear ones, which could have changed the course and result of many games. Stopping for a few minutes to view proceedings as captured on television would have made all the difference. Samplers: Against Cote D'Ivoire, Luis Fabiano of Brazil controlled the ball twice with his hands before scoring.
The referee allowed the clear foul, possibly because he did not see it, but it was clearly evident on television.
When the USA met Slovenia, Maurice Edu scored a clean goal, which would have given the Americans a 3 - 2 victory, but the referee disallowed it. Television showed that nothing was wrong with the goal. Against Mexico in the second round, Argentina's Carlos Tevez scored from a clearly offside position, the referee allowed the goal. Frank Lampard of England scored against Germany, which may have changed the course of the game, it was disallowed. Yet, television showed that nothing was wrong with the goal.
Even Nigeria was a victim in the lone goal loss to Argentina. FIFA later came out to acknowledge that the referee should not have given the goal, because the Assistant Referee had already raised his flag for an infringement. In such controversial situations, relying on technology would have saved the day, and prevented the attendant injustice. We hope FIFA does something in this direction in the years ahead.
South Africa 2010 was a huge economic success, with FIFA making over $3 billion gain. This confirms that soccer is now more than just an enjoyable game. It is money-spinning business. Nations of the world should take a cue from this.
The tournament also saw the use of the new ball manufactured by Adidas, the jabulani. It is believed to be rounder and faster than any other ball before it. Naturally, it gave the players, particularly goalkeepers, a lot of problems, as it changed direction at will, and was often slippery to hold. FIFA should take feedback from the players, and determine whether the jabulani should continue to be in use. It is significant that after the 64 matches of the tournament, the total goals scored were not higher than those of previous ones, where the jabulani was not in use.
South Africa has represented Africa well. We pray Nigeria learns a lesson from it, and rises up to truly take its deserved position in the continent. It was the end of the tournament last Sunday, yet it was also a beginning. Brazil 2014 beckons, the serious nations will begin preparations now, the perpetually unserious ones will go to bed, and begin to struggle at the eleventh hour. May our country get out of that infamous position.