7 days, 5 cities, 4 games, 1 dire England performance, 16 goals and almost 15,000 miles travelled. A truly incredible week.
The 2010 World Cup in South Africa is one that we’ll never forget, and it’s still got three mouth-watering games to go.
If anyone ever gets the chance to experience the atmosphere of a World Cup, they simply have to take it. Like most football fans, the World Cup month once every four years is the greatest month of those four years – put simply it’s the most exciting event that EVER happens.
Watching the action on the TV as I have for the last 20 years only builds up the excitement for actually arriving at a World Cup. It’s an overused cliché but flying out to the World Cup genuinely recaptures the feeling of the night before Christmas as a child. And that was before walking out of arrivals at the airport and straight onto a pitch, complete with stand.
At every World Cup there are cynics who will find things to complain about, this year it was the ball, the vuvuzela’s and the low scoring early games. But no-one can deny that as the tournament has progressed it’s contained some of the most exhilarating football and memorable games you could ever wish to see.
We’ve seen Maradona’s fiery and ultimately combustible attacking Argentineans, boasting the phenomenal Lionel Messi, the all-star Spain team of Torres, Fabregas, Alonso and Casillas, exciting performances from other Icons Cristiano Ronaldo for Portugal and Kaka for Brazil, and of course, the sensational Germany team that at present has already plundered 13 goals.
There’s been scandal with the French team, the reigning Champions Italy being humbled by New Zealand. There’s been the heartbreaking penalty shoot-out defeat of Ghana, the team who effectively became Team Africa as the rest of the continent fell. England also turned up for 20 minutes or so.
Putting the football aside, it really is everything off the pitch that makes being at the World Cup such a memorable experience. When else would you be able to watch a game of football with thousands of crazily dressed fans from all corners of the world? I don’t think I’ll ever see North Koreans and Portuguese partying together again.
I think there are three unexpected aspects of being at the World Cup which really stuck me. Firstly, the fact that the USA is now truly a football nation. US fans bought more tickets to games than any other, bar the hosts, and from being amongst the fans during their last 16 defeat to Ghana, it clearly meant just as much to them as to any other supporters.
Secondly, England and Germany. After years of embarrassing and at times shameful displays of “support”, fans at the game drank together, sat together, waved flags together and cried together – although the German tears were slightly happier.
The third thing that I’ll never forget was just how much hosting the World Cup meant to ordinary South Africans. FIFA have been criticised for many things, but their brave decision to host The Greatest Show On Earth in Africa could do more to help South Africa and the continent as a whole than an endless parade of Liveaid concerts and broken trade promises.
While every South African we spoke to was not only obsessed with football and the World Cup being held in South Africa, the most striking thing was their pride in being treated as a genuine country on the World stage. For the last 3 weeks, the eyes of the World have been on South Africa, and they haven’t disappointed.