thumbnail Hello,'s John Duerden has arrived in the Rainbow Nation ahead of the Confederations Cup and is ready to provide a daily account of the football, the country, the people and his adventures in South Africa...

Yesterday was a national holiday, Youth day, one which honours the high-school students in Soweto who were fired upon by police in 1976 as they marched to demand better education. The official figure was 23 dead but the real figure is thought to be well into three figures.

The story leading up to the march is a long one and the ones who died are destined to be remembered for a much longer time. 

It is events like this which shake you out of your football focus and for a few moments at least, make you realize that South Africa’s history and culture is complex and unique. 

It is a fascinating country and one that hundreds of thousands will see for the first time next summer. That brings problems of its own. One is that of accommodation. Even for the much lower-key Confederations Cup, there has not been a bed available in Bloemfontein for days. 

With more journalists and many more fans heading here next year, things could be interesting. The intestine-recommending tourist official who lives next to the stadium is now considering renting her apartment out and making a killing. 

I managed to squeeze into a guesthouse on the east side of the city. The advantage of these as opposed to the usual media hotels is that they really come alive at breakfast.

Tinny, a telecommunications engineer down from Johannesburg, started a breakfast debate on the merits of Bafana Bafana with a stockbroker from Durban who was there with his (Liverpool-supporting, South Africa is full of Liverpool fans) family.  

The exchanges went something like this:

“Shoemakers and carpenters play for Iraq, How could we not beat them?”
“No, they beat South Korea and Saudi Arabia to win the Asian Cup”
“We are OK in defence but it is a part of the team’s mentality that we don’t know what to do in attack”
“We need Benni McCarthy”
 “He didn’t pull his weight when he was selected”
“Santana just isn’t a good coach.”
 “That’s right.”  

And so on. It is a lovely way to start the day, all you need to do is toss a grenade, in the form of a football question, into the throng, sit back and enjoy the fireworks.

This is what international competitions are all about, just as much as the games themselves. It is a chance to meet like-minded fans, sometimes from different areas of the same country, or from all over the world. 

Bora Milutinovic has coached in most of the countries on the planet but he still bounds in the press conference as if he were a fresh-faced tactician.

As I mentioned previously, one gets the feeling that Bora is using this Confederations Cup to put himself in the shop window for a sixth World Cup and he basically admitted that he wouldn’t mind taking a team to South Africa again next year.

He certainly has the media on his side and eating out of his hands. 

“Do the Iraqi players have as much fun with Bora as we do?” asked an enraptured German journalist to striker Imad Mohammed.

The well-travelled coach announced upon arriving at the conference that as Iraq are playing Spain, he preferred to speak Spanish, though he always chooses that language over English if given a chance.  

His team may not be so entertaining this afternoon as he warned: “I will be happy if we play much more negative against Spain (as compared to South Africa) and we get a point.”  

After eating peri-peri chicken for lunch, I spent a pleasant afternoon sharing a desk with three fine reporters from East London (Eastern Cape) newspaper Daily Despatch.

The knowledge that all South African reporters seem to have when it comes to the Premier League is impressive and not just about the big teams.  

But the bigger the team, often the snootier the attitude. The DD guys had been disappointed at the attitude of both Brazilian and Egyptian players in the mixed zone on the previous day.

From Brazil, only Gilberto Silva deigned to talk to them. Others pretended to be on their phones, others were only interested in television. Egypt’s players had more excuse to be taciturn with only Mohammed Zidan happy to talk to the press.  

Then came a routine and fairly uninteresting press conference with Carlos Puyol, Xabi Alonso and Carlos Macherno.

In contrast to the ever-smiling Bora, I don't think the three players raised a smile between them.

The questions were routine as were the answers and as far as Spain and Iraq go, everybody is expecting a routine win and to be honest, it is hard to imagine any other outcome.   

John Duerden