Monday, June 14, 2010
Archbishop Desmond Tutu, decked out in full Bafana Bafana regalia, launched the opening ceremonies of the 2010 FIFA World Cup in Soweto with a wonderful speech welcoming people from all over the world in his inimitable way, saying:
“… I'm dreaming man, what a lovely dream...We are the world, and we welcome you, we welcome you all; for Africa is the cradle of humanity, so we welcome you HOME...all of you; Germans, French, all of you—every single one of you: WE ARE ALL AFRICANS..." The crowd went wild:
For many who came to South Africa from the Northern Hemisphere, the unexpected chill of an African winter will surely be mitigated by the warmth of the people. South Africans are displaying a level of optimism seldom seen in this troubled country, even surpassing the excitement and patriotic fervor that flowed during the heady days of the 1995 Rugby World Cup, when South Africa claimed victory over New Zealand. They're driving around with South African flags flying from their cars, blasting their controversial Vuvuzelas and wearing the yellow and green team jerseys to work every Friday. The South African cricket team even showed up at a Bafana Bafana game wearing the soccer team’s jerseys.
In the first match of the month-long tournament, South Africa played Mexico at the calabash-inspired Soccer City stadium in Soweto, scoring the first goal of the first FIFA World Cup tournament to be held on African soil.
When Siphiwe Tshabalala booted the goal in for South Africa, Tutu could be seen leaping to his feet in the stands, dancing in excitement to the delight of everyone around him, including U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden. The result was a 1-1 draw. A thrilling opening game played with heart on both sides.
The USA played England in a much-anticipated face-off on Saturday in Rustenburg. During the 1950 FIFA World Cup the USA beat England in a huge upset dubbed “The Miracle on Grass.” The match was only covered by one U.S. paper at the time. This time around the picture was rather different—the game was watched by an estimated 12.5 million US fans, and surely reported by every news outlet and social media channel in the world. The game ended in a 1-1 draw. A fumbled ball by the English goalkeeper made for speculation that the poor man might not be allowed back into England. American fans were thrilled with the result, but England was devastated. This is a country whose fans idolize the game—British football fans even said in a recent poll that they would give up sex for a year if their team won the tournament.
Then again, the passion that this game generates around the world is legend. The President of Uruguay went to the team’s locker room to polish their shoes when they made it into the World Cup.
In Durban on Sunday, Germany beat Australia by a decisive 4-0, the biggest and most exciting win of the tournament so far, in a game that displayed the young German team’s exceptional skills, though the Australian team played most of the second half with one man down after a red card sent one of their players off the field. On the same day, Ghana became the first African country with a win in this series, beating Serbia 1-0 in Pretoria. And in Soweto, The team from The Netherlands (one of the favorites to win the World Cup), squared off against their neighbor Denmark, beating them 2-0.
South Africa's Bafana Bafana will play Uruguay in Pretoria on the 16th of June, a date that is commemmorated as Youth Day in honor of the 16th of June, 1976—the day Sowetan students rose up against apartheid and were massacred in cold blood. A win on this day would be victory indeed.
The excitement is clearly audible throughout the country, as the ubiquitous Vuvuzela noisemakers buzz a veritable concert of sound in every stadium. So far, 9 of the 64 scheduled games in the lead-up to the finals have been played—time to say that South Africa is indeed capable of hosting a world-class event in the international spotlight, and of doing it with flair.