Friday, April 30, 2010

Kiwis Amateurish? Well, Actually ...

This story is heart-warming. Or a stunning indictment.

Take your choice. Want to feel good about New Zealand's World Cup team? Or would you prefer to feel sorry for it?

The Kiwis may very well show up at South Africa 2010 with an amateur player in their ranks.

Which is a nice sidebar, but probably doesn't bode well for their chances of escaping Group F ... with a point ... or even a goal.

Not that anyone thought much of their chances beforehand.

The amateur in question is Barron, a banker by day, an unpaid midfielder for the Wellington club team by night.

It's not as if he has never put in time for the New Zealand national side. He came on as a substitute in the Kiwis' biggest victory in 28 years, the 1-0 decision over Bahrain in a playoff for a World Cup berth.

But, generally, World Cup players are paid millions of dollars by club teams to ply their trade. Or at least hundreds of thousands. Even non-traditional soccer nations such as South Korea, Japan, the United States ... all their guys are pro.

(North Korean players do not play for pay, but they might well be able to, if their bizarre government allowed them.)

Barron is being given time off by his employer to practice with the All Whites, and appears to stand a very good chance of making the roster ... of the least-fancied (as the Brits would say) side in the tournament. Behind even the hosts and the North Koreans.

But how many bankers can say they went to the World Cup as players?

Barron realizes not many (if any) other amateurs will appear at the tournament. "I can't imagine there will be many others there," he said.

New Zealand, with an amateur.

Isn't that cute?

Isn't that pitiful?
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Thursday, April 29, 2010

Fan Fests! for Ticketless ... Fans

Seems a bit late to be getting around to this, six weeks ahead of the World Cup. But better than late than never ... we think. I mean, assuming security is OK, and people are able to get in and out ...

South Africa 2010 will have what they are calling Fan Fests, just as Germany did in 2006.

The idea is basic and almost a "have to do it" sort of thing.

Organizers arrange places where fans can gather and watch matches -- in large groups -- and enjoy the feeling of being at a match ... when they are not.

South Africa concedes right off that it won't have Fan Fests on the scale Germany did, where an estaimted 18 million people gathered at non-game-venues to watch matches.

South Africa's total Fan Fest capacity is 275,000, all of it at stadiums not being used for the World Cup. That isn't a big number, but that is a start, especially in a country where many soccer fans cannot afford match tickets. If they can get in free to see, say, their own team play, or Brazil or one of Africa's other team ... well, that's a great gesture.

It's a little unsettling that this is just now coming together. Anything organized at the last minute tends to turn out ... looking like something last-minute.

Presumably, people in South Africa have been talking to the Germans about this. Tips about organization and logistics and transport and all that.

I know people who have been at these sorts of events. Such as outside the Hotel de Ville in Paris in 1998 for the opener between Brazil and Scotland, and it was described as great fun, with thousands of people there who couldn't get tickets or just wanted to party in a soccer atmosphere, perhaps without really caring all that much about the soccer but caring a lot about the event.

Anyway, yes, this SA2010 Fan Fest thing has the capacity to bring the World Cup much closer to lots of people who otherwise would feel no connection to it at all. That's good.
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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

South Africa Falls to 90 in Fifa Rankings

Hard not to feel pessimistic about the Bafana Bafana Bafana. (If the same name twice is good, can't three be better?) South Africa's soccer team hasn't had an impressive performance since the Confederations Cup, which was in June, and by "impressive" we mean spirited defeats to Brazil and Spain.

The new Fifa world rankings are out, and South Africa's fall to No. 90 has alarmed and depressed the Johannesburg Times. Well, anyone in South Africa who is paying attention. Rankings are for show, but when they have Brazil and Spain at the top we must concede that perhaps the list has some basis in reality. Or predictable performance, anyway.

Concepts to consider:

--South Africa will be the lowest-ranked team to host a World Cup. (Previous low: South Korea at No. 40 in 2002.) And absolutely is at risk of becoming the first host not to survive group play. We can assume the Bafana Bafana Bafana will play better than they are, in front of home crowds, but will it be enough to earn them results against Mexico, France and Uruguay? Seems as if the first match, vs. Mexico, is critical. A point out of that changes everything for the BBB. A defeat might just do the impossible: Silence the vuvuzelas.

--Brazil is back up to No. 1, slipping past Spain. Seems about right. Lots to like about Spain, but hard to rank them over Brazil, especially with the coldly efficient Carlos Caetano Bledorn Verri (Dunga) coaching the team. All that Brazilian talent inside an actual system? Look out.

--Portugal is third, its highest ranking since Fifa began doing this in 1993. Which is interesting, because the global opinion of Portugal seems to be that it was a bit lucky to make the tournament at all. And certainly this crop of players is not remotely as well-received as the Luis Figo generation, considered a darkhorse choice to win it all in 2002. Remember, Portugal is stuck in the 2010 Group of Death (along with Brazil and Ivory Coast and the Walking Dead, North Korea). If Cristiano Ronaldo and the lads survive Ivory Coast and escape the group, the rankings would seem to indicate Portugal has a fairly good chance of seeing Brazil again -- in the final.

--The highest rankings that don't quite feel right begin with Argentina at No. 7 (Maradona is still coach, right?), continue with England at No. 8 (a bit low for a team that has won everything for a while now), Croatia at No. 9 (third in their qualifying group and not in the World Cup), France at 10 (hello! Raymond Domenech still coach!), and then Greece, Egypt, the United States and Chile at Nos. 12-15. Are they really surpassed by only 11 teams?

--More meaningful rankings are on the way. Fifa's story on the April rankings notes that almost no international matches were played in the past month, so teams are moving around incrementally bases on minimal results. As the story notes, we can anticipate some serious movement when the last batch of rankings come out, one month hence, after a whole bunch of pre-Cup friendlies are played.
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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Capello's Folly: WAGs Welcome in England Camp

Lamest idea of the week. No question. Maybe a World Cup-turning decision.

Mario Capello, England's heretofore no-nonsense coach who last year had made clear that his players would have very limited time with WAGs -- the infamous "Wives And Girlfriends" -- has changed his mind.

Capello now says the WAGs are all right.

What a horrible decision.

England already is the most distracted team in the world. No. Really. Because on top of the usual pressure to win the World Cup, it adds the scary brew of ...

--The world's most voracious tabloid media. These guys love love love the WAGs. And the WAGs love them, too. But it has nothing to do with soccer. Which automatically makes it bad for a soccer team.

--This is now a real distraction. As it was in 2006, when (far as I can tell) the term WAGs became popular. Players need to focus on matches. Not on their girlfriends' demands or complaints or relatives.

--Capello just blinked. He was the Vince Lombardi of soccer ... but suddenly he went all Sven-Goran Ericksson on us -- Sven-Goran being the coach who allowed the WAGs to turn the England camp in Baden-Baden to turn into "a circus" in 2006.

I don't get this. Why the reversal? The players seemed to have come to grips with his original decision. They might even have been happy about it (but would never tell their own WOG -- wife or girlfriend).

Now, the 2010 World Cup could again become about the hangers on.

Capello apparently chatted with coaches, including Marcello Lippi (coach of the 2006 champs from Italy), guys who don't have the same approach to the game as he does, and they apparently convinced him the players' happiness was critical. And they are happy when the WAGs are around, he seems to think.

I beg to differ.

Capello's original plan of access to players only on the days after matches ... was perfect. A break from the grind of the World Cup. But not a lasting distraction. Just right.

He apparently has not made clear how much more access the WAGs will have ... but it's more than they were going to have.

Oh, and if you followed that link, click on the link to "In Pictures" ... and you will get an idea of what the 2006 World Cup was like. With the often silly wives and girlfriends of often silly footballers becoming as big a story as the team.


It's not too late for Capello to change his mind again. Maybe he will sense all of England cringing at the decision and go back to the one-day-per-match decision.

The man who was the Iron Hand of English soccer ... just went limp. He went squishy. Which is not what he does ... but he just did it.

Mark it down as the first time the Three Lions "blinked" at the 2010 World Cup. We're guessing it won't be the last, what with the WAGs now in tow.
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Monday, April 26, 2010

The Matches No One Wants to See

Happens at every World Cup. Tickets for certain matches are available ... for a long time.

Maybe forever.

All 64 matches may be declared sellouts, but if you go see X number of the less glamorous matches in person, you see the empty seats. An accounting trick: "Tickets sold," but not to people who plan to use them. Have the groundskeepers get the tarps ready for the end zones.

So, which nations can expect some wide open spaces in the stands when they play at South Africa 2010?

Here are the five group-play matches for which tickets remain at every price level. (Information courtesy of the Johannesburg Times.) And, no, North Korea is not on the list!

--Algeria vs. Slovenia in Polokwane. Comment: What? A poor North African country vs. a tiny Balkan country most of the world doesn't know from Slovakia? You can't sell that out?

--Honduras vs. Chile in Nelspruit. Comment: Wait, a poor Central American country against a South American country so skinny you can spit from the Argentina border into the Pacific Ocean? You can't sell that out? Probably, like, 100 people from Nicaragua will be in South Africa. You still can be the team mascot if you can afford the serape.

--Chile vs Switzerland in Port Elizabeth. Comment: What is with all the hating on Chile? They just had a 9.9-magnitude earthquake, people. Can't some church groups show up and cheer for the plucky survivors? And I know the problem with Switzerland: Everybody feels neutral about them.

--Australia vs. Serbia in Nelspruit. Comment: Wow. I thought that Southern Hemisphere cricket/rugby solidarity thing mattered. But no. South Africans won't see the Aussies play? Could be Serbia be part of the problem. What about the enormous Serbian community in Nelspruit? You know, that family that is always at the mosque? Oh, those are Bosnians?

--Paraguay vs. New Zealand in Polokwane. Comment: Hello? Southern Hemisphere solidarity? A cruel joke. And Paraguay is part of the problem. Quick, name one city or one player from Paraguay! Time's up! Answer: Asuncion ... and The Guy Who Got Shot in the Bar in Mexico. OK, then, how about a shout out for Polokwane? Wouldn't you pay to see anybody play there? Polokwane, anyone?

Anyway ... tickets remain available for these five matches. Lots of them. Pretty much anywhere you want to sit. Better hurry. Or not.
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Sunday, April 25, 2010

More English Anticipation of Success

We haven't had one of these for, oh, maybe a week now? We're overdue.

Here is the latest: Former England coach Glenn Hoddle is the latest to suggest/predict/assume England will win South Africa 2010. Not just get out of the group stage, and advance in the knockout stage.

But to win the whole thing.

And you know what this means?

We are getting close to every single Englishman publicly stating that "this is England's year!" Which, of course, is what happens in England every four years. Which is followed by a rather astonishing collective amnesia when England is knocked out in the quarterfinals via penalties. "We knew they had no chance. Poor lads."

What does Hoddle like about the 2010 team?

Well, first he suggests the 1998 England team "looked stronger." And the 1998 team went out against Argentina in, what was it (heck, I was there, I ought to remember; the match where Becks was red-carded), the quarterfinals in St. Etienne?

So, the 2010 squad isn't quite as strong, but it can win. Gotcha.

If everyone is healthy, Hoddle said. Especially Wayne Rooney. This team's "one special player."

And Hoddle said that probably within hours of Rooney suffering a groin injury that apparently has ended his Premier League season. Rooney has said he will be fine by June 12, when England plays the United States in its first World Cup match, but groins are tricky muscles. And he wasn't quite over that ankle, either.

Hoddle also sees midfielders Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard as key contributors, as well as fullbacks Ashley Cole and Glen Johnson. (And who mans the other forward spot, Sir Glenn? Oh, that's right: you weren't knighted for losing in the quarters.)

And here is the particularly deadly part of the English Victory Disease: An assumption that escaping the group phase is inevitable. (Followed by the immediate projection about coasting through the knockout phase until at least the semifinals.)

Said Hoddle: "I don't see a problem with the group stage, although there are no easy games in the World Cup, and there will be a lot of pressure on us, but I cannot see us not going through to the knockout stages.

"We are on the right side of the draw, so we won't probably play Brazil or Spain until the semis. All in all there are a lot of good signs that England can go an awful long way in this tournament."

And now, it's up to England to support the lads. Which they will, right up until that heartbreaking defeat, when they will turn on them like rabid dogs.

Said Hoddle: "Now all that is important is that the country gets behind (coach) Fabio (Capello) and the team and that we all have a really good summer and hopefully bring back the World Cup."

Sure. Nothing to it. Happens every 44 years.
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Saturday, April 24, 2010

Sepp Blathering about African Football

Fifa boss Sepp Blatter is one of those guys with no inner dialogue. Anything that pops into his head comes right back out of his mouth. If he were anyone else -- you know, a guy who was held responsible for saying silly things after he'd said about a thousand of them -- he would lose his job as Fifa president and be doing commentary on ESPN-Switzerland.

Now we have Sepp making generalizations about African football, and when Sepp starts making global generalizations he is sure to say something he perhaps means as a compliment (no, really) and it comes out sounding like anything but.

So, here is the link to the story of Sepp yakking during a video press conference from Zurich the other day.

The most interesting thing Sepp said is this:

That African football players have more skill than "even Brazilians and Europeans" ...

So why do they struggle on the world stage? Sepp knows that one, too. They "lack continuity and good tactics."

There's more:

--Sepp hopes an African team makes the semifinals. Which may be more than a little disturbing, six or so weeks from now, to the non-African team that gets the last African team in the quarterfinals. Will referees remember what the Fifa president wanted? An African team in the semis. And can you imagine the leader of any other major sport expressing that sort of specific competitive result in a sport he runs with an iron hand?

--Sepp is disappointed that three of Africa's six teams (Nigeria, Ivory Coast and South Africa) have changed coaches within the past six months. "Changing coaches at the last minute is not help Africa's cause," Coach Blatter said.

--He also had a bulb go off, apparently, and he told the South Africans listening to the video conference that Bafana Bafana would not advance if they don't score goals. (This, after South Africa played North Korea to a scoreless draw.)

Well, thanks for that insight, Sepp. Except that a team can advance without scoring a goal. (Three scoreless draws, one team in the group wins its other two matches, the other two teams tie each other. Then the three-scoreless-ties team finishes second with three points, behind one team with seven points and ahead of the two with two points. Sheesh. You'd think he knew this.)

We will have more bon mots out of Sepp's mouth before this is over. Count on it.
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Friday, April 23, 2010

Platini Trashes Domenech

That one had to sting.

France's coach, Raymond Domenech, being pilloried by French soccer hero Michel Platini?


That's like a German being rubbished by Frank Beckenbauer. A Dutchman being lambasted by Johan Cruyff.

Platini not only was a great player, like those other two he has become a very important administrator. (President of UEFA, to be precise.)

And when he levelled some blasts at coach Domenech and the French team ... well, that says something, and it's not good, for France.

We have not been impressed with Domenech for some time now, going back to qualifying for this World Cup. Well, actually, back to Euro 2008, when the French stunk it up. And Domenech had that bizarre episode (mentioned by Platini) where he proposed to his girlfriend during a postgame session with the media.

Weird, is what it was.

What has been more telling was France's huge struggled throughout the South Africa 2010 qualifying process despite having considerable talent. (More than Platini gives France credit for.) The runner-up finish, the playoff victory over Ireland aided by the infamous Theirry Henry handball.

France has never seemed comfortable or particularly organized under Domenech. That team just doesn't look quite right, and it has been fairly amazing that France kept him on when it had a perfect opportunity to replace him after that close call vs. the Irish at Stade de France.

So, there it is. Platini says France has a "Domenech problem" ... and limited talent. The country's biggest soccer authority has quit on this French team. Pretty rough.
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Thursday, April 22, 2010

Making the Team

If it's seven weeks and small change until South Africa 2010 ... we are approaching the zenith of the "I should be on the team" campaign surrounding fringe players of the 32 countries in the World Cup finals.

The process is amusing, shameful, pathetic, embarrassing, selfish, painful ... all at once.

The reality of not making the World Cup team is beginning to sink in for some former stars or would-be stars. And they realize that it hurts.

In several ways.

Not making the team ...

--Means your national coaching staff and federations believe you're not ready yet to help or (worse) believe you no longer can. That is an ego blow of the first order.

Two recent examples of this one? Ronaldinho promising that Brazil will win the World Cup if only coach Dunga would add him to the roster. ... and Torsten Frings, onetime starting midfielder for Germany, campaigning (ineptly) to be added to the Mannschaft. And the flip side: A kid from Slovenia, Haris Vuckinic ruing that he probably won't make it. (The kids are never as bitter; they assume they will have more chances.)

--Not making the team means your brand is about to take a major hit. You may still be a club star, and make serious money, but when the world is watching, seven weeks hence, and you're not there? Advertisers are going to cluster around the guys on TV in South Africa, not the guys watching them on TV.

--Not making the team means that, for the fairly significant fraction of players who really enjoy putting it out there for the national side, well, you're out of it. No getting misty as they play the anthem before kickoff. No running about the stadium with a flag after that big victory.

The deadline for a 23-man provisional roster is May 12. Coming up fast. The final roster must be turned in the day before the opener, on June 10.

This is the time to campaign, and all the guys on the bubble know it. Expect more bleats similar to that from Ronaldinho.
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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

A Japanese Reality Checker

Let's hear it for Yuji Nakazawa. A guy who is honest about his team's situation in the looming 2010 World Cup.

Nakazawa is Japan's captain. And he isn't sugar-coating anything.

Japan is an enormous underdog to survive its group. Because it is in Group E with the Netherlands (which could win the whole shootin' match), Cameroon (which could make a deep run) and Denmark (well-organized and has Niklas Bendtner).

But instead of coming up with the usual "we will surprise people" or playing the "we get no respect card," Nakazawa has been blunt.

To wit:

He said the Japanese team needs to have courage to survive a "frightful" schedule. Which sums it up.

"All those teams are full of dangerous players at big European clubs," Nakazawa told Reuters. "Basically they will punish you if you make a mistake. The forwards are all frightening. We need to be very wary of them. They can pounce late in games if you let your concentration slip. We are well aware of the threat but if we go in scared of them we will be in trouble. We have to play with courage and have belief in ourselves."

What I like about that statement? It doesn't denigrate his own side. But it lays out the challenge Japan faces.

Japan will have to play out of its mind to advance. It won't be easy, and the opposition has some highly skilled players.

I don't expect Japan to survive. I doubt Japan will get a point, unless it can manage a tie against, say, Denmark.

But Japan will play hard for 90-plus minutes. Japan's guys will run until they drop. Like some of the other lower-middling clubs in the world (South Korea and the United States come to mind), they try to make up for a lack of great technical skill with a high work rate and sheer "want-to".

I admire clubs like that. I would like to see them win.

It's just not the way to bet.
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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Gag Me: An Award for Sepp

This is one of those cheesy moments when the country that gets to host some major sports event ... gives a major award to the president of that organization. The IOC or Fifa, which Sepp Blatter runs.

Cuz why? Because they happened to be in charge when the event was awarded to the host country. (That's why guys like Juan Antonio Samaranch have lots of hardware in their living rooms.)

And that makes them deserving ... how? What did they do for humanity or for your country?

Well, nothing, really. Everything honchos like Sepp do is for their organizations, and usually for its bottom line.

Sepp Blatter is not a visionary for "taking" the World Cup to Africa. He did it because he believes Fifa has business to do there and money to make. The End.

Also, Sepp didn't take the World Cup to SA. It was a vote by the fairly small executive membership. Maybe South Africa really ought to give awards to the key guys in that voting. Like, say, Jack Warner of Trinidad, president of Concacaf.

Anyway, yeah: When hosts start giving medals to sports presidents ... gag reflexes suddenly become engaged.
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Monday, April 19, 2010

North Korea's Team and a Grudge

This is the strangest story of the week.

North Korea, cursed with perhaps the strangest government on the planet, has made the World Cup. It already promised to be a little weird. North Korea is paranoid and potentially violent at any given moment.

And this has a bit to do with that. Paranoia and violence.

To wit: Nobody seems to want the North Koreans around. But it especially true in Zimbabwe, a country neighboring South Africa to the north.

And here is why:

North Korea apparently was involved in training a Zimbabwean military unit that may have been involved in the killing of 20,000 Zimbabwe civilians.

Zimbabwe president for life Robert Mugabe apparently invited in military advisors from North Korea to train a particular unit to carry out reprisals against civilians who were not enthusiastic about him taking over the government, almost 40 years ago.

Some of the tribes loving in the regions where North Korea is recalled as the leaders of a unit that killed so many civilians were talking of demonstrations against the presence of the North Koreans. One of them said the raising of a North Korean flag would be "very provocative."

This won't get better when North Korea goes into South Africa for its three Group G matches. Because South Africa has about 1 million Zimbabwe refugees who have heard bad stories about the North Koreans, as well. And who may be able to demonstrate without having the government attack them.

Why is North Korea doing this? For one, Mugabe runs a police state. Not many nosy reporters having around, and North Korea is comfortable in another police state.

Second, South Africa retains a feisty and independent media, as well as civilians who are likely to organize protests if they think they necessary -- and the presence of the North Koreans might be enough.

Third, two of North Korea's Group G matches are fairly close to Zimbabwe. The first match is at Johannesburg and the third is in Nelspruit, in the northeast of the country. That is, this almost makes sense, logistically.

Go over and read the story. Pretty weird. And that is why North Korea is not some favorite little-guy hero in southern Africa.
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Sunday, April 18, 2010

Fernando Torres's World Cup at Risk

Spain's star striker, Fernando Torres, is having knee surgery today.

He will miss the rest of the English Premier League season, which is a big deal at Liverpool.

But over here in World Cup-land ... what we want do know is this: Will Torres be back for Spain in South Africa 2010?

The answer, cautiously ... is yes. He will be back.

Liverpool's medicos seem to believe he will be back in three to six weeks.

The optimistic prognosis has him training again in the first half of May, in time to catch up with the national team as it prepares for SA2010.

Even the worst-case scenario would have him back in time to play in a World Cup warmup and be ready to go in the Big Event itself.

Spain is so deep, the loss of any one player is not significant. But Torres joins Cesc Fabregas on the injured list, and those are two high-caliber players the Spanish would rather have available.

Spain gets a bit of a break in that it is the last team to get into action. Its first Group H match is June 16, against Switzerland. The tournament opens on June 11, so that gives Torres five extra days to get ready.

Torres has had a rough year. Earlier problems with the same knee, a hernia situation ... it's rough out there.

And he certainly fits the description of "great player we definitely would miss" is he isn't ready to go.
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Saturday, April 17, 2010

England and the High Altitude Tent

More evidence that the Three Lions camp is getting a bit ahead of itself.

England are (as they say in the UK) planning for high altitude matches at South Africa.

After all, the 2010 World Cup features four stadiums that sit at an altitude in excess of 4,200 feet. (Check the graphic about halfway down the link.)

But know this about "clear path to the semis" England:

Two of England's three Group C matches ... will be played at sea level.

The opener against the Yanks is at 4,900 feet, at Rustenburg. And that might get to the lads, considering England is about as hilly as ... Holland.

But even the Cotswolds tower over Cape Town, the site of Game 2 vs. Algeria, and Port Elizabeth, site of Game 3 vs. Slovenia. The key words in those two towns are "Cape" and "Port". Hello! Sea level, people!

But England is thinking long term here. Countin' chickens/pre-hatch.

When (not if) they win the group and advance to the second round, they would be back at almost-mile-high Rustenburg. Then, after taking care of the runner-up out of Group D (Germany or Serbia, presumably, since we're presuming here, anyway), they would move into the quarterfinals and go up to Johannesburg, at 5,700 feet to play, say, Argentina.

After seeing off Lionel Messi y amigos, the Englishmen get a return to sea level at Cape Town, but the final against Brazil/Spain would be back up at 5,700 feet in Joburg.

So, England is getting ready for altitude.

English players will be sleeping in altitude tents, starting in the next few weeks, to get them ready for the "thin" air of Rustenburg. And the Joburh, of course.

It will all seem quite silly if something odd happens and, say, England doesn't survive Group C.

Maybe, then, those altitude-trained footballers could go up to Joburg and jog briskly around the stadium. for 90 minutes. Just to show how well conditioned they would have been for the quarterfinals and final, had they reached them.
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Friday, April 16, 2010

Foreign Tourist Numbers: Read 'Em and Weep

More information on the numbers of foreigners expected at South Africa 2010.

They expected/hoped for 450,000. Which would have been grand because it's the foreigners who really hemorrhage cash at a World Cup. Or any global event.

But as we have noted, prices for airfare, lodging, tickets ... were offputting to foreigners. To the nth degree.

Well, and some other issues.

Including crime, race tension and the difficulty in moving around inside South Africa, which is a big country with bad train service, apparently shaky internal airlines and dangerous roads.

So, the number for foreigners ... as low as 100,000? Yikes.

Though Danny Jordaan of the organizing committee is hoping it will crawl up to 300,000. And he seems to be banking on England getting to the semis, triggering a rush of English fans to the Southern Hemisphere in early July.

Well, good luck with that. Though we wouldn't think organizers should be openly cheering for the success of a specific country.

So, it looks as if South Africa may still sell all 2.9 million tickets available ... just not nearly as many as they hoped to those free-spending foreigners.
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Thursday, April 15, 2010

Getting It Right with Tickets

It's late. My goodness, yes. What, 500,000 tickets available seven weeks ahead of the World Cup? That's cutting it close.

But Fifa and local organizers finally made tickets available to South Africans at retail outlets around the country, for cash, and they sold briskly.

Interesting journalism concept here: The general report is all upbeat, pretty much, and the internal, South Africa story points out scuffles in lines and a man dying from a heart attack.

But let's give some credit here: The people in charge of this finally are doing what needed to be done to finish selling out stadiums.

To be sure, it hasn't unfolded exactly how Fifa hoped and South African organizers wanted. The hope was for 450,000 foreign visitors for the World Cup, and it now looks as if it will be closer to 200,000.

Blame for that can be spread in several directions: 1) high plane fares to South Africa from ... anywhere; 2) overpriced lodging, especially back when South Africans thought foreigners were coming en masse and they could gouge them; and 3) negative news about crime in South Africa and, of late, political unrest, particularly as it pertains to race.

At the end here, Fifa is selling tickets for $20, which is real money in South African townships but certainly is not in the realm of World Cup soccer.

Thus, the amount of revenue generated from ticket sales will be markedly lower than hoped for or forecast. Planes won't be as full. Hotels will have empty rooms. (Fifa may want to think long and hard before putting the World Cup in another poor country again.)

But, at least, it appears that stadiums will be filled. Reportedly (and Fifa seems to make this stuff up as it goes), 23 matches now are sold out, including the opener, the two semifinals and the final. That's nice. It would have been embarrassing to have empty seats for the championship match of the world's biggest sports events.

We don't have to worry about that, at least. And neither does Fifa ... or local organizers.
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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Tickets for 63 (!) Matches Still Available

With 500,000 tickets to the South Africa 2010 World Cup still unsold ... Fifa is showing some wit here and selling them the way South Africans are most likely to buy them.

Only took Fifa a year to figure this out.

After foreigners didn't buy in the numbers Fifa and organizers expected.

After Fifa insisted on selling the remainder to South Africans over the internet -- when many South Africans have no access to the web.

Did anyone actually think this through?

So, now, retail stores in malls in South Africa will sell World Cup tickets over the counter. For cash.

As the story in the Johannesburg Times notes, South African soccer fans are not always walking around with a major credit card in their pockets. Nor are they likely to buy a year ahead of an event. They don't have that kind of money to send into limbo.

They apparently prefer to buy their tickets late, in cash, and with 500,000 tickets left for an event that begins in barely eight weeks ... maybe it's time for Fifa and local organizers to sell some tickets the way that South African fans are most likely to buy them.

The most shocking stat in the story? The contention that tickets still remain on sale for every match of the tournament, aside from the final.

Yes. Read that again.

You can still buy tickets to any match in the tourney that isn't for the championship. All 63 of them, including ... the opener between the hosts and Mexico ... the other two South African matches (vs. France and Uruguay) ... the three matches involving Brazil (including the matchup with Portugal) ... the three matches involving Spain ... and the England-U.S. match on June 12.

Fairly astonishing.

About now, if I held a batch of tickets that I paid full price for a year ago, when these final 500,000 tickets, many of them, are going to be sold over the counter in South Africa for $20 ... well, I would feel like a sap. A sucker.

This is going to be the all-timer World Cup for fans who just drop in, last minute. A country awash in cheap tickets, an average of 8,000 or so unsold for 63 matches involving the best teams in the world ... and you can walk up to a counter and hand over $20 and go see England and the U.S.

Crazy. And inviting, for anyone with can get a flight and has some time off in June.
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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Pele Provides a Lionel Messi Reality Check

We mentioned here recently that Lionel Messi won't consider himself a legend until he leads his national team to a World Cup championship.

It appears as if Brazilian superstar Pele, almost universally considered the greatest player in soccer history, might not be willing to grant Messi icon status even then.

Pele is annoyed at comparisons being made between himself and Messi. And he couldn't have been amused when Argentina coach Diego Maradona a week ago suggested that Messi is "playing a kick-about with Jesus." I'm not exactly sure what he meant by that (no doubt a literal translation of the Spanish), but I assume it means Diego believes Messi is playing at a god-like level.

So, what does Pele have to say?

For starters, that he has been through this many times before: this "as good as Pele" thing.

Said The Man: "They are always trying to compare someone to Pele. I always joke with my Argentine friends that they must first choose who is the best player from Argentina.

"Then, when one of them scores a thousand goals, then we can start talking."

Ooh. Snap!

Pele is credited with scoring 1,280 goals. Messi has, what, 1,000 to go before he catches him?

There also is the Best Argentine thing to figure out. Most don't seem willing yet to take that title from Maradona and give it to the 22-year-old Barcelona forward.

Pele is right. (And perhaps indulging in a little Brazil-vs.-Argentina snark.) When the Argentines have settled on their best guy, then make comparisons to Pele.

But, as the story makes clear, Pele is a fan of young Mr. Messi. For what he has done so far. He says he predicted he would be the Fifa player of the year back in 2007.

By 2009, he was.

Said Pele: "Messi did not win (in 2007; Kaka did), but I remember that I said to him, 'you'll be the next.' It took a little longer, but he eventually won. He's a great player.

"He plays very well for Barcelona but has failed to show his talent with the Argentina team. Maybe he can at the World Cup. Let's wait and see."

Ah, yes, the other sore point: Messi to date has been thoroughly unremarkable with his national team.

Pele led Brazil to World Cup championships in 1958, 1962 and 1970. Yes. Three of them.

The man set the bar really, really high. Let's see if Lionel Messi can approach it.
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Monday, April 12, 2010

England Is Just Too Good!

More possum-playing by the representatives of a world power. For the benefit of England, apparently the most easily bamboozled side on the planet.

Now it is Chelsea's Italian coach who is buttering up the desperate-for-approval English.

Carlo Ancelotti says England is just too good this time around. Better than the overmatched Azzurri side, which is "in transition," Ancelotti sadly concedes.

And 50 million Englishmen are nodding and thinking, "Ah, yes, another guy recognizes that it's our year!"

When they ought to be thinking ...

"We're not dim enough to be sucked in by the syrupy praise of the Italians as well as the Germans, are we?"

We have been over this before. It is one of the running themes of this blog. South Africa crime. South Africa politics. Julius Malema. Club vs. country.

And everyone and his brother (aside from Steven Pienaar) talking up the English.

To review: How many World Cups have the Germans won? Three. How many have the Italians won? Four. How many has England won? One. Still. Even with craftier blokes like the Germans and Italians ready to hand the "don't mean nothin'" pre-World Cup championship to the Three Lions.

Hey, England fans. These guys are messing with your heads. Don't listen. Perhaps recall your infinite disappointments since 1966. Don't assume, don't expect. Keep your powder dry and worry about getting out of the group before you plot your path to the semifinals -- and beyond.

Far better to be pleasantly surprising than bitterly disappointed. Again.
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Sunday, April 11, 2010

Only One Ronaldo at SA2010

The Original Ronaldo -- perhaps he should be known as Ronaldo the First -- is acknowledging the inevitable.

That he will not be on Brazil's World Cup team because he is not playing well enough. Or, actually, not playing much at all, for Brazil club team Corinthians.

We will miss the gap-toothed forward, the greatest player in the world there for about six years straddling the millennium.

Remember, Ronaldo is the all-time leading World Cup goalscorer, with 15, scoring in 1998, 2002 and 2006. Gerd Muller of Germany is second, with 14.

It would be nice to have Ronaldo around, for old-time's sake. But if Brazil doesn't have a place on its team for Ronaldinho (and it apparently does not), who has been playing far better ... it certainly doesn't have a spot for our pudgy hero, 33 with a waist line going on 43.

(Oh, and just for a fun, here is a photo from the 2002 World Cup, when Ronaldo wore perhaps the worst haircut in Fifa history.)

Brazil coach Dunga doesn't strike anyone as the sentimental sort, and in his laser-focus drive to bring the Jules Rimet trophy back to Brazil, he is not going to carry out-of-form and out-of-shape forwards.

Maybe it will save this Ronaldo from some embarrassment. In South Africa, whenever people talk about "Ronaldo" ... they almost certainly would be talking about Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo.

Ronaldo the First doesn't need that.
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Saturday, April 10, 2010

Threats, and Threats of Terror; Maybe

It just keeps getting better for the 2010 World Cup.

The latest: A poster on a shadowy Islamic fundamentalist blog with, apparently, ties to Al Qaeda, had someone musing about how it would be nice if a bomb went off during the USA-England match on June 12.

And then a London newspaper (no, not one of the dignified ones), had a screaming headline about how "World Cup fans face bloodbath; race war declared in South Africa" ... with the news peg (not that a London tabloid really needs one) apparently being the original threat from political associates of slain white supremacist Eugene Terre Blanche vowing revenge.

The group has since withdrawn that threat. But bad news continues to bludgeon South Africa 2010 as the days begin to dwindle before Day 1.

So, yes, South African organizers said they are on the case. No worries.

More detail:

Here is more on the "bombing threat."

An Algerian wing of [Al Qaeda] has claimed it will carry out attacks on England's Group C match against the United States on June 12 in Rustenberg, prompting new security fears less than two months before the start of the competition.

But football's world governing body FIFA has stressed that such threats can occur in any country and that tournament organizers are fully prepared.

"It does not mean that because we receive a threat the World Cup should not be allowed to be contested in South Africa or any other country,'' Fifa secretary general Jerome Valcke said.

"We have freedom in the world to celebrate what we want. As the management of the organization that governs world football, we know there is a threat. We will not stop the organization of the World Cup because we got the threat."

Not to downplay the threat, but it does occur to us that England and the U.S. are in the same group as Algeria, and perhaps we have a soccer-fan terrorist here who is thinking of hurting players as much as killing civilians. Isn't that the sort of thing you do when you're a murderous soccer fan?

And then there is the English newspaper stuff.

The Daily Star is not a reputable newspaper, but it probably accurately reflects the thinking of some English fans when it suggests:

Security experts fear England fans will be caught in the middle during June’s tournament if the growing army launches a race war. White leaders have vowed “revenge” for the 69-year-old’s killing. They have urged football teams and foreign supporters to avoid the “land of murder”.

World Cup officials are now drawing up emergency plans in case race riots disrupt the whole country.

The AWB plans a show of strength on May 1 near World Cup final city Johannesburg.

Secretary general Andre Visagie said: “We have received hundreds of calls in the last two days. On May 1 we will discuss the appointment of a new leader, and decide how to avenge what has happened.”

More than 25,000 England fans are due to watch Wayne Rooney, 24, and Fabio Capello, 63, launch their World Cup campaign in 10 weeks’ time.

Many supporters have already hired extra security in the crime-ravaged country.

They are even being offered traceable panic buttons to use for emergency rescue if they get caught up in clashes.

So, just another day on the SA2010 beat.
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Friday, April 9, 2010

All Malema All the Time

Eugene Terre Blanche aside, and he is dead, the most divisive and abrasive figure in South Africa today is Julius Malema, president of the African National Council Youth League.

Yes, we will get back to soccer someday, soon, but when JM is ranting, and the ANC is attempting to get its loose cannon under control ... well, it makes for some great theater. If it didn't seem creepy and pre-violent at the same time.

Today, we will look at Malema's outburst during a press briefing in Johannesburg on Thursday, when he called a BBC reporter a "bastard" and a "bloody agent" ... as well as the ANC trying today to muzzle its own youth fuhrer before he creates even more trouble.

If you didn't follow the "Malema outburst" link, here is the best of it ... directed at a young reporter for the BBC, Jonah Fisher:

What irked Malema was Fisher's comment that Malema should not criticise Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe's opponents for operating from "air-conditioned offices" in Sandton because the youth league leader himself lives in the area.

"Let me tell you before you are tjatjarag [excited]," a fuming Malema said while wagging his finger at the BBC reporter.

"This is a building of a revolutionary party and you know nothing about the revolution. So here you behave or else you jump."

Amazed by Malema's response, Fisher laughed.

"Don't laugh," warned Malema. "Chief, can you get security to remove this thingy?

"If you are not going to behave, we are going to get security to take you out.

"This is not a newsroom, this. This is a revolutionary house and you don't come here with that white tendency, not here. You can do it somewhere else, not here.

"If you have got a tendency of undermining blacks, even where you work, you are in the wrong place. Here you are in the wrong place."

An angry Fisher retorted: "But that's rubbish."

Malema responded: "You can go out. Rubbish is what you have covered in that trouser - that is the rubbish. You are a small boy, you can't do anything. Go out. Bastard! Go out! You bloody agent!"

As Fisher walked out, Malema turned his fury on the rest of the reporters in the room.

"It's not a beer hall here. It's not a drunk beer hall, cheap beer hall, this. And you ask anybody, including political parties, which tried to undermine this house, what happened to them.

"You can undermine all of us, but not the house. Never undermine the house. When you are here, you are in a different terrain. You are in our space and you are going to behave in a manner that is befitting of being in the ANC office.

"You don't howl here, especially when we speak, and you behave like you are in an American press conference? This is not America, it's Africa," he shouted.

And then, today, Malema was smacked down by the adults in the ANC, who apparently have a better sense of the damage the guy is doing to the party and to the country with the 2010 World Cup nine weeks away.

In the Cliffs Notes version of that, the ANC said ...

“The aggressive and insultive behaviour to the said journalist that culminated with Mr Fisher walking out of the Youth League press briefing cannot be condoned at all,” the organization said in a statement.

It said the “unfortunate outburst” by Malema did not only reflect negatively on him, but also reflected negatively on the ANCYL, the entire ANC family, their Alliance partners as well as South Africa in the eyes of the international community.

Well, that sums things up quite nicely.

If you read to the bottom of the link, we see that Malema was creating problems bigger than bad relations with the media.

He was sending out signs on relations with Zimbabwe that run directly counter to official ANC policy. Malema is backing the policies of president-for-life Robert Mugabe, the man who destroyed the Zimbabwean economy and made his country into one of the more repressive regimes in Africa. Which is saying something. Malema has been saying Zimbabwe sets an example South Africa should follow.

The ANC's official policy toward Zimbabwe is non-intervention in its internal affairs.

Now ... we shall see if the ANC's sensible folks can keep Julius Malema from making news for, oh, about three months. It certainly would improve the chances of the country pulling off a peaceful and successful World Cup.
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Thursday, April 8, 2010

A Plea for Racial Harmony in SA

We will make this very simple today.

A gentleman by the name of Jonathan Jansen has written an opinion piece for the Johannesburg Times in which he calls for, hopes for racial harmony. I recommend it.

Jansen is hopeful but not blindly optimistic. Noting, as he does, the failure of leadership in South Africa.

It is interesting in that he concedes that South Africa has "unresolved racial troubles" and that the murder of white supremacist Eugene Terre Blanche is the sort of incident that "forces South Africa to stare (at the issue) in the face."

This seems to be a reasonable, even-handed look at the issues that are roiling the host nation of the 2010 World Cup.

But, again, perhaps reinforcing South African pre-occupation with its troubles ... the World Cup, only the biggest global event in the sports world, is not mentioned once here.

Maybe the answer is simple: Even the World Cup doesn't seem important when your country isn't all that far from a race-based cataclysm.
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Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Tensions Escalate Anew in South Africa

Maybe this series of events, the "kill the Boer" song, the Boers who were, in fact, killed, the murder of white supremacist Eugene Terre Blanche ... maybe this just isn't going to go away anytime soon.

The Johannesburg Times has several stories about the current tensions.

One of them, here, is what we in journalism call a think piece ... about how the murder of Terre Blanche could reinvigorate the previously fading far right wing of the white political spectrum.

It is interesting and thorough, but a bit of a heavy read. Perhaps this sums it up:

"It is possible that the killing of Terre Blanche will greatly strengthen the hand of a new hardened right wing in South Africa. In life, Terre Blanche attracted a small, uninfluential, and extremist following. He will not be mourned for what he stood for. However, in death he may come to represent the experiences of scores of minority groups in the country who perceive themselves as being on the receiving end of racist and now also violent abuse from the ANC. In effect, therefore, Terre Blanche may be seen as having been martyred for a minority cause in the country."

There is more. Much more. Including audio from an angry scene outside a courthouse, with whites led by the AWB party on one side, and blacks on the other ... and a story that Terre Blanche's body was stripped ...

Again, we're back to thinking this is not a country that ought to be the scene of an international sports event in nine weeks.

This story, about how the body of Terre Blanche was stripped, is mostly tawdry and objectionable ... but some interesting atmosphere is described at the bottom, which we will copy here:

Racial tensions were high outside the court.

At least 50 police officers and a police helicopter monitored the scene. On several occasions the situation threatened to turn violent but did not.

The police kept AWB members and farmers, and the local black community, at a safe distance from each other.

The AWB supporters sang the old national anthem, Die Stem, and the black crowd sang Nkosi Sikelela iAfrika.

Four apartheid South Africa flags and about 20 Vierkleur flags were held up during the singing. The police intervened when insults, and a bottle of fruit juice, were hurled by a woman in the AWB camp, sparking a face-off between the two groups.

Racial slurs such as "Hulle is k*****s en bobbejaane" were shouted by AWB followers, some wearing T-shirts with the words "100% Boereseun" and "Staan saam of sterf alleen" (Stand together or die alone).

Local resident Keoagile Mookisi said: "These white people are angry. They think the death is political. They are calling us k*****s. Even on farms they call us k*****s. This is how we live."

Tiaan Theron, a farmer who travelled 1300km from Beaufort-West for the trial, said the extremists' sentiments were not shared by everyone. "Vengeance only comes through God," he said.

Here is some audio from a reporter on the scene. Clearly, it was not an ice-cream-social kind of setting.

The African National Congress, which controls the government, apparently has ordered Youth Leader Julius Malema, a massively polarizing figure, to stop singing the "kill the Boer" song. Orders he may or may not obey.

And while we are plowing through an alarming but significant group of stories, consider this one: Where a South African policeman shot to death four whites he said were racially taunting him and were going to attack him.

Other countries around the world -- say, the United States -- have race-based hate. But when it comes to killing, U.S. police consistently maintain that it overwhelming stays within a racial group. Whites kill whites, blacks kill blacks, etc.

And this is just a ridiculous reason for four men to end up dead -- an argument that began over a "joke" about penis size.

What will be interesting to see is if South Africa gets a grip on the situation as the World Cup draws near.

What is fascinating, and perhaps very telling, is how all these stories of anger and hate and suspicion ... seem to live in their own seething universe. No one seems at all interested (angry populace, or media) in taking into account how this looks on the world stage ... how this plays in the living rooms of the rest of the world.

It is as if a big part of South Africa is so focused on its internal hate that it can't even be bothered to consider it has the biggest event in global sports coming to its shores two months hence.

Soccer fans, not to mention Fifa, have to find that alarming.
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Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Back to the Toy Department

After two days of dealing with weighty issues, we return to issues considered weighty by those involved ... but, ultimately delightfully frivolous. Which is what sports is about, is it not?

It is the latest eruption in the long-running "club vs. country" debate.

Over most of the eight-month history of this blog, club coaches have been going after national coaches for pushing their lads too hard, allowing them to aggravate injuries and putting their World Cup activities at risk. Cristiano Ronaldo comes to mind.

This time, it is the national coach who is irate, and the club coach who is on the defensive.

Specifically, we have Raymond Domenech of France attacking Arsene Wenger, also a Frenchmen, but in this case more importantly the coach of English club team Arsenal.

Wenger played William Gallas, a top French defender most recently notorious with les bleus for scoring the goal after Thierry Henry's infamous handball vs. Ireland. Anyway, Wenger started Gallas in a high-profile Champions League match vs. Barcelona.

Gallas had been struggling with a calf injury, and had been out for weeks. His comeback didn't last until halftime; Gallas reinjured his calf in the match with Barca and now will be out more than a month.

Which has Domenech hopping mad. "I'm livid and pissed off," Domenech told reporters. "It's outrageous and irresponsible to have played him so early after the injury. It's scandalous. He'd better be fit for the World Cup."

Meanwhile, Wenger is not exactly apologizing.

"I don't think it will cost him (Gallas) his World Cup," Wenger said. "I believe he declared himself fit and I have the reports from the rehabilitation center where he worked for 10 days and he had four days training with the team. Maybe we should have taken some more time but he was jumping, running up and down the stairs in France, had very hard sessions. At some stage you are in a job where you have to produce performances."

He added that it was Gallas's decision, too.

Said Wenger: "Gallas was born in 1977 - he's 32 - so you ask a player of that experience, 'do you feel ready to play? Have you worked hard enough? Do you feel ready to go into this game?' When they say yes you have to believe them. We have to first take care of the interests of Arsenal.

"The French national team is important, but Arsenal is, as well, and he is paid by the club, not the French national team. We have to use the players when they declare themselves fit."

Somehow, we doubt that mollified Domenech, who may be without one of his starting XI. And will have to make a decision on him by May 18.

This won't be the last we hear of these problems. Not with club seasons reaching their climax and the World Cup barely nine weeks away. But these are problems we can handle.
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Monday, April 5, 2010

Well, This Is a Start to Chilling Out

The right-wing party that the day before vowed revenge for the murder of white supremacist Eugene Terre Blanche ... today backed away from the threat of violence.

This is a welcome reduction in rhetoric in a country teetering on the brink of, well, let's call it what it would be ... a race war. Just as the 2010 World Cup is hoving into view.

The move away from the "vengeance" stance also came on the same day as the South African Communist Party condemned the killing of Terre Blanche ... putting the communists squarely in the camp of careful moderation.

Who knew?

Overall, it was a day for chilling out. With some exceptions.

The spokesman for the ABW party, which represents the hard right of Afrikaner politics, said that "In the heat of the moment certain statements were made, and I would like to retract those statements." He maintained it was the party's policy "that no member will engage in any form of violence, intimidation, racial slandering or anything of that (sort). It will not be tolerated." He said, however, it was difficult to keep the party's members "calm."

However, the ABW seems likely to call for a portion of South Africa to be ceded to whites, apparently on the "homeland" basis that the apartheid regime used to fence off ethnic minorities. Interesting concept.

Julius Malema, however, appears to represent a flash point here, with the ABW calling for president Jacob Zuma to muzzle the ANC's Youth League leader.

The spokesman said Zuma's first job should be "closing Julius Malema's mouth," suggesting that he go back to school and join the boy scouts "so that he can learn humility."

Anyway, a day of cooling tensions. Everyone interested in the World Cup, or an orderly world, has to be pleased.
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Sunday, April 4, 2010

This is Real Trouble in South Africa

Those with security concerns pertaining to the 2010 World Cup appear to have been looking in the wrong direction.

Imported terror? Terror from outsiders?

Maybe not all that big an issue. And never was.

The problem in South Africa has always been internal violence. And never more than right at this minute.

The country doesn't have a race war. Yet. But it has taken more than a few steps down that path over the past week. And it would seem as if most sensible outsiders would not want to visit a country where people are being killed on the basis of their skin color. Race wars are really bad for tourism.

The latest: The murder of another white farmer/rancher, but this time it was the infamous white supremacist Eugene Terre Blanche. Whose political associates seem to be vowing revenge.

This is getting ugly. No other way to describe it. And the Johannesburg Times doesn't sugarcoat the situation when it runs a story with this headline: "Fears of racial tensions grow." Uh, yeah.

Backing up a bit.

South Africa has had problems of late with Afrikaner farmers being attacked and killed. "Afrikaner" meaning, in South Africa, the mostly Dutch-Huguenot whites (also known as Boers) who dominated politics for most of the last century. Who erected the apartheid regime.

In theory, South Africa got past all this during the reconciliation period of the mid-1990s. When its black majority took control of the government.

In practice, the reconciliation at the moment looks more like a patch than a cure. Demagogues on both sides are trying to ride racial tension into personal power. As the Johannesburg Times wrote in an editorial today, "There is evidence across our society that the spirit of reconciliation that that characterized the transfer of power is wearing thin in a country still divided by one of the world's widest wealth gaps."

Perhaps the most obvious case of an individual who seems to be fanning the fires to advance his own agenda is the odious lout Julius Malema, president of the African National Congress Youth League and all-around embarrassment to the nation.

A few weeks ago, he led students in Johannesburg in a chorus of a ANC anthem that includes the words, "Kill the Boer."

That led to various South African political groups going to court asking that the song be classified as "hate speech" and banned. And it was, much to Malema's annoyance. But not before several more white farmers were murdered. Killings which some whites have laid at Malema's feet. At the least, the timing was unfortunate for those who prefer peace.

And then a few days ago, Malema went to Zimbabwe, just north of South Africa, a failed state of epic proportions, sang the "Kill the Boer" song again, embraced Zimbabwe's disastrous president, Robert Mugabe, and then suggested that South Africa would do well to follow Mugabe's ruinous example and nationalize farms and mines owned by whites.

Now we have real problems. On several levels.

--Mugabe's economic/racial policies essentially destroyed Zimbabwe, a country that was once self-sufficient in food stuffs and now is an abject charity case. However much animus black Africans hold toward white farmers, the reality is that they were the bedrock of the Zimbabwe economy. Many have fled; others have had their property seized by Mugabe's party. Some have been killed.

--South Africa was supposed to be the anti-Zimbabwe. The exception, where the colonial whites could stay on and prosper and build the country along with black Africans. In part, this would work because the Afrikaners, the Boers, have been in the country so long they feel it is as much theirs as anyone else's. In part, because Nelson Mandela and other far-sighted black leaders decided South Africa needed all its citizens, not just its black ones. But now, just as the World Cup is coming into view, this social compact is fraying dangerously.

--The Afrikaner minority, especially the farmers, and especially when provoked, are a very hard bunch, and prone to violence. They fought the British to a standstill during the Boer War of 1898, at the height of Britain's power. A minority of perhaps 20 percent of the population enforced the race-based apartheid system for decades, helped prop up Rhodesia (Zimbabwe, but when whites still ruled), ran Namibia and intervened in the Angolan civil war. All at the same time. It must be assumed they are well-armed, hard and organized men. They would not win a civil war, but anyone with an ounce of brainpower should be keen to see it never, ever comes to that.

Before, we've talked about expensive airlines and hotels. And a high murder rate. South Africa has issues on those fronts.

What is going on right this minute, however, it by far the most dangerous moment for South Africa 2010 since the country was awarded the World Cup. Rest assured, Sepp Blatter is watching this very, very closely. Fifa risks dropping its big event into a country dividing into armed camps. A potential disaster.

This might be a good time for Fifa to flex some of that muscle it likes to use and go directly to Jacob Zuma and tell the president to muzzle Julius Malema, make sure the police actually do investigate the murder of Terre Blanche and other farmers ... and not allow white extremists to gain any momentum among the trigger-happy fringe.

This is a dangerous situation. It bears close and ongoing examination.
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Saturday, April 3, 2010

Diego Bitten during Kiss Goodnight

This would be vaguely sweet if it weren't so obviously silly.

Diego Maradona, he who was hospitalized and took sutures when his dog bit him ... was "saying goodnight" to his Shar Pei when he got nipped. Well, more than nipped. He needed 10 stitches to close a wound on his lip.

Read about it here. It's just too good.

There's a joke here somewhere about kissing dogs ... Make one up yourself.

His doctor says Diego told him "it's common he gets close to the dog like this before he goes to bed."

Have we already suggested that Diego is capable of anything ... and anything can happen to him?

Well, we're saying it again.

And, meantime, he may want to keep his face out of his dog's face. That might have been the clearest message here. "Hey, dude, back off. You're creeping me out."
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Friday, April 2, 2010

Up Next: Copyright on 'World'

Fifa is outta control!

Three South African companies that make calendars are going to take the world soccer organizing body to court over its claims that "2010" is an intellectual property belonging to Fifa.

No. Really.

Here is the story.

The Johannesburg Sunday Times pokes fun at the concept, a big, by putting one of those little "TM" notations after the number 2010. You know, just in case Fifa's legal beagles go after the newspaper.

Seems hard to imagine that Fifa could actually sue the companies for "breach" of special legislation passed a year ago.

What's next? Newspapers printed with only the day and the month -- and not the year?

Schoolkids warned to leave 2010 off the papers they turn in?

Sports leagues referring to the "season after the 2009 season" when talking about 2010?

Or maybe a Fifa lawyer calling me up and demanding we change the name of this blog from countdown-sa2010 to something else. Perhaps countdown-safifaworldcup2010?

I wouldn't put anything past these guys.
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Thursday, April 1, 2010

Fabregas, Rooney Injured; World Cup at Risk?

They went down on consecutive nights. Two of the best players in the English Premier League. And the world.

Their Premiership seasons are at risk.

The question here is: Are their South Africa 2010 plans in jeopardy?

We must wait and see. But two days after Cesc Fabregas of Spain/Arsenal and Wayne Rooney of England/Manchester United were hurt, here are the early indications:

--Fabregas is in trouble. He suffered a broken leg while taking a penalty in the 85th minute of a Champions League game with Barcelona. He will be out at least six weeks, according to his club coach, Arsene Wenger. And with the World Cup only 10 weeks away, it's difficult to imagine he will be in peak condition for South Africa.

Spain is not hurting for talent. It has great players nearly everywhere. Actually, Espana started Fabregas only three times during qualifying. But he has grown in the past year, and you can't lose a player of his caliber and not be the less for it. And you can't play a Fabregas who isn't quite healthy and be the same team. So he bears close watching.

--Rooney may be OK. He rolled his ankle violently in ManU's match with Bayern Munich. But the team said today nothing is broken. Just "ligament damage" is what they are calling it. Which sounds like trainer-speak for a sprain. Now, sprains are nothing to sniff at, especially for a big lad like Rooney. His immediate availability with ManU is going to suffer, but if he gets some time to heal he ought to be ready for South Africa.

Clearly, all serious fans want all the top players to be healthy. That's what the World Cup should be about. The best against the best. But the endless club seasons make it a near-certainty that some elite players won't be there. Those who get hurt in the next few weeks are even more like to miss the Big Event.
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