The countdown is over, the kick off is underway as the day football fans have been waiting for in anticipation kicks off in Soccer City Johannesburg today.
With the first World Cup to be played on African soil, local hopes are high that one of the six African teams will still be there come the final game. To date no African side has reached the semi final stage. A Roger Milla inspired Cameroon reached the quarterfinals in 1990 and Senegal got that far in 2002. History does not bode well for African chances, but this time ‘home’ advantage in ‘Africa’s Cup,’ might just make the difference.
Many countries that have never won the World Cup have had their best performance when serving as hosts. No host nation has ever failed to progress beyond the first round, and Bafana Bafana will not want the embarrassment of being the first.
But even if the team itself does not reach the expected heights, there is every reason to believe that the tournament itself will be a success for Africa. Angered by foreign newspaper reports which suggest deadly snakes will bite players while their wife’s and girlfriends are mugged and murdered in the street, South Africans are pulling together to make sure the tournament is well supported.
Most World Cups have faced criticism for allocating too many tickets to corporate fans – leaving ordinary supporters feeling like they are missing out. But thanks to the recession, combined with high hotel and travel prices, the multi-national giants, who traditionally send in huge numbers to big sporting events, have stayed away.
The biggest group of fans are coming from the United States, which sounds unlikely at first, but isn’t so surprising when you consider football supporters from all over the world live in the US and have American passports.
The UK, Germany, Australia, Mexico and Canada make up the rest of the top six. Only two European countries in the top six aren’t what were expected.
And one of the beneficiaries of the disappointing overseas turnout is the ordinary South African, who has been given the chance to snap up tickets, which were left unsold.
On Monday, 38,000 tickets – which were earmarked for hospitality lounges – went on sale labeled “beer and biltong” seats. For P1300, fans can buy tickets to games, which include snacks and drinks.
This is a lot of money for most, but there was no shortage of enthusiasm as queues snaked round the corner from ticket offices in Sandton and Soweto. For many people getting a ticket – any ticket – is all that matters.
Organisers may not have exactly planned it this way, but this World Cup may just help to reconnect the beautiful game with ordinary fans.
As John Barnes, the England great said in an interview, “South Africa is like Jamaica. A beautiful country with a bad reputation. They expect murders and gangs but find a beautiful country when they get there. I expect this to be the most colourful, passionate World Cup ever.”