Eyes Of The World: South Africans Hit Back At Doubters

In his blog from the World Cup John Duerden looks at how the big event is reported at home and abroad.

June 14, Johannesburg

When you have been on the receiving end for so long then there comes a time when you have to give a bit back. That has been happening quite a lot in South Africa over the last few days.

Ex-Manchester United goalkeeper Gary Bailey played almost 300 games for the Red Devils from 1978 to 1987 and still looks young enough to don the gloves. The blond shotstopper grew up in th Rainbow Nation and told Supersport TV on Sunday that stadiums such as Durban and Cape Town are the best in the world.

“They said we couldn’t do it and that we would not be ready but we did it.”

‘They’ seem to be the English media mainly and, fairly or not, the perception is that tabloids and broadsheets alike have been unfairly negative about the wisdom of handing the World Cup to South Africa. FIFA Secretary General Jerome Valcke publicly complained about the negativity coming out of England and Germany.

Pete Davis, also of Supersport, did something more and went on something of a rant.  In a column titled ‘open letter to our foreign media friends’ he gets all sarcastic with the sniping scribes and gives them both barrels.

“As you emerge blinking from your luxury hotel room into our big blue winter skies, he writes, "you will surely realise you are far more likely to be killed by kindness than by a stray bullet. Remember that most of the media reports you have read, which have informed your views on South Africa, will have been penned by your colleagues.

“We are also here to look after you and show you a good time. Prepare to have your preconceived notions well and truly shattered.

“The fact that England, the nation which safely delivered Wembley Stadium two years past its due date, is prepared to offer us South Africans advice on stadium-readiness should not be surprising. The steadiest stream of World Cup misinformation has emanated from our mates the Brits over the past couple of years.”

Fortunately for us sensitive souls at Goal.com, we know that he is not talking about us. The luxury hotels reference is one clue, the other is that we have understood from the start that South Africa was a great place to host a World Cup.

As a truly international site, most of our African-related content is produced by Africans. That doesn’t mean all is completely peachy but you can’t begrudge the locals for shoving a few words back down a few throats.

Friday June 11

Beautiful female European broadcasters to the right, a very well-turned out, as always, Hidetoshi Nakata above, English commentator Martin Tyler below and former South African Rugby captain and subject of recent hit movie ‘Invictus’, Francois Pienaar, to the left. This is the sporting spectacle that is the World Cup.

All were overshadowed by the beauty of the setting at Soccer City. As the seats slowly filled, the sound of the vuvezelas soared into the late afternoon Soweto sky and the 2010 World Cup finally got underway.

The excitement on the way to the stadium was evident everywhere you looked from the girls on the side of the road in Johannesburg blowing vuvezelas to the staff on the gas pumps at the numerous garages, blowing, yes, you guessed it, vuvuzelas.

Even that sound, not as ear-splittingly loud as many predicted, was drowned out by the fighter jet fly-past that signalled the start of the opening ceremony and literally shook the media centre containing journalists from the world over. From China to Ecuador to Italy and Uganda, the pressmen came, eager to be part of a special day for Africa.

Opening games are rarely memorable and stand out either for the shock value of the result or the atmosphere. This match-up had one of those and very nearly had the other. The emotion was high in the stands and reached a fever pitch as the national anthem for South Africa rang.

The first half followed form more closely than the script. Goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune was the busier of the two shot-stoppers in the opening period. By the midway point, El Tri were on top and turning the atmosphere down to much more manageable levels. For a time even the visiting fans, not inconsiderable in number, could be heard, shouting ‘Ole’ as their heroes stroked the ball along nicely. The problem for the CONCAFAF giants was a simple one, they missed their chances. Guille Franco was the biggest culprit.

At half-time, the local journalists were happy to be all square while mindful of the need to keep the ball better and use it much better near the opposition penalty area.

It all changed ten minutes after the restart as the majority of the 84,490 fans in the stadium greeted the first goal of the 2010 World Cup with what can only be described as wild abandon. At the end of a swift counter-attack, Siphiwe Tshabalala fired the ball high into the Mexican net in fine fashion. It was a shot fitting to open such a tournament.

Rarely can a goal have been celebrated so long and so loud. It was a full five minutes before the home fans settled down again, if it can be described as such. They were still on their feet and still dancing when Teko Modise missed a chance to put the hosts two goals to the good.

By this time, the sun was setting in the Soweto sky and there was always the danger that Mexico would get the goal that they deserved. It came with ten minutes remaining. A lapse of concentration perhaps in the Bafana back line and Rafael Marquez was on hand to collect a deep cross, pick his spot and coolly slot home.

You may have expected both teams to settle for the draw, the French journalists nearby were certainly hoping that they would but in the dying moments Katlego Mphela, heartbreakingly for the hosts, rolled a shot against the foot of the Mexican post. It would have been a cruel blow for the visitors. As it was after 58% possession and 14 shots on goal to their opponents’ nine, Mexico were left wondering how they didn’t win.

Such is the beauty of football that the South Africans were left wondering the same. “I would have settled for 1-1 at half-time,” said a fan to me as we exited the stadium, “but God, it was disappointing at the end. It was a great day though wasn’t it?”

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