Friday, June 11, 2010

"We all face the same way..."

In the predictably-gridlocked streets approaching Soccer City, the resentful-elephant drone of the vuvuzelas has to harmonise – of sorts – with the pounding of stationary car horns.
It may be a bit of a din, but it’s a joyous one – even if it has just taken more than four hours to crawl the 30km from Pretoria.
Apparently even the South African team are struggling to get their bus out of the Johannesburg suburb of Sandton - setting for a similar snarl-up for that premature open-top bus tour on Wednesday, though they didn't then have a rather important match just a few hours later.
Organisers may have warned people to leave their cars at home, and many exuberant ‘Bafana Bafana’ are scampering by on foot.
Yet perhaps the very first World Cup finals match ever staged on African soil was always going to cause a bit of a jam, even with the dubious pomp of the opening ceremony to come first.
In such an ebullient atmosphere, it would certainly seem a little churlish to buy a pair of earplugs – cannily offered at 15 Rand apiece, or £1.50, by a lady darting her way through the traffic in a typically-vivid sandwich board.
Occasionally, over the amateur horn concertos that have been playing since dawn, there might come a human cry of ‘Shapa, Bafana, shapa!’ – that is, ‘Beat them, boys, beat them’.
The hosts look determined to make the very eye-catching, ear-splitting most of this historic event, so long in the waiting, so controversial in the making and so hopefully sweet in the staging.
The morning newspaper forecasts appear resigned to first-round heartbreak, though the fans themselves are not so sure – not a bit of it, in fact.
‘The World Cup trophy is ours. We’ve already won it. There’s no way it will leave the country,’ declares optimists’ optimist Tefo Khuse, while Oko Nkungwana insists: ‘I know the Bafana will beat the other teams.’
Not any more cocksure than you’ll no doubt find in England, of course, though it’s all easier said than done – especially with some tasty Mexicans up first this afternoon.
The Central Americans, coached once more by 2002 World Cup manager (and 1986 World Cup red card offender) Javier Aguirre, were niftily impressive at Wembley last month – even though dire defending at setpieces gifted England a stodgy win.
Stereotypically-speedy wingers such as Giovani Dos Santos, Andres Guardado and – flickeringly – Carlos Vela certainly drag defences wildly about and stretch the active playing field as wide open as, well, Group A itself.
But South African’s Brazilian World Cup-winning coach Carlos Parreira will have spent three months of intensive training not only improving fitness – as seen in the recent 12-match unbeaten run – but emphasing similar playing ideals.
Like the visitors, the hosts should be looking to hoard possession when possible and deliver the ball at speed – still patrolling and hustling in midfield, should the Mexicans prove slightly more successful at the art.
Parreira cites as one of his favourite footballing phrases: ‘A rapid pass with accuracy is one of the most devastating weapons.’
(You might say ‘If it were done when ‘tis done, then ‘twere well it were done quickly’, if your name were Macbeth – perhaps a certain South African midfielder, surname Sibaya, should try it.)
Okay, so South Africa will struggle to do so, quite as devastatingly nor enchantingly, as, say, Spain two years ago at Euro 2008 or in most of the months since.
But the home fervour, recent match-winning morale boosts, and a new-found physical robustness, could tilt this game if not decisively in South Africa’s favour, then at least a little against a massacre by Mexicans.
Perhaps it really will all come down to a struggle between the soundtracks – vuvuzela versus mariachis.
There’s only one way to settle this – pipe...

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