You may think that the World Cup is about soccer, or perhaps the exposure given to new cities the world over – guess again. You know what the World Cup is really about? It’s about thousands of people from all over the world getting together in peaceful times to celebrate the universality of humankind that manifests itself, over the few weeks that make up the World Cup, in a game made up of eleven a side who represent something much, much bigger than that.
History shows that soccer is not just about the sport, it’s about domestic, national and international politics. More than any other sport in the world, how a national team does on the field can provide hope or despair to a population living under the strongholds of an oppressive regime like the former Soviet Union, or slowly escaping to the trenches of poverty like Ghana, now a regular World Cup qualifier.
The 2010 World Cup in South Africa was just as, if not more monumental than any of its predecessors. 74 years after Egypt became the first African country to participate in the World Cup, South Africa became the first African country to host the tournament. Not only did this put Africa on the map for millions of viewers around the world, it became a campaign for human dignity, following in the footsteps of Nelson Mandela and the fall of the apartheid regime. This is why the strongest memory I have is not of Andres Iniesta scoring the winning goal in the World Cup final. Nor is it the time we took to explore Capetown during our three weeks in South Africa (click here to read more about Capetown and the surrounding areas). The strongest and fondest memory I have is undoubtedly the minutes leading up to the national anthems. The same commercials would appear on the big screen, the same intensity would fill the air, and then this happened:
What you don’t see here are the thousands of fans, garbed in decor from their native land rising in unison to cheer as Shakira filled the stadium. Boys, girls, men, women, young, old, black, white, it didn’t matter. Every single person with the ability to do so rose – nay, jumped to their feet as soon as the first few notes of that song filtered out of those speakers. To witness such unity among a crowd of complete strangers was a truly incredible experience. There were no fights that we saw, no words of hate being thrown around, nothing other than camaraderie between opposing sides (unlike the English premier league where opposing fans beat one another to a pulp). More than any other tournament in history, this World Cup was one where the political message was one of peace and the common bond that unites people across the world.
Game #1: Argentina vs Germany
The energy in Capetown leading up to the quarter final of Argentina vs Germany was incredible. The waterfront was transformed into an arena for those who had tickets, wanted tickets and those who simply wanted to partake in the atmosphere and, like any good footballer, watch the game in a local pub. Music was blaring, commentary was full throttle on the big screen and line ups outside the Paulaner Braeuhaus were long, so we took a picture and left for our first World Cup match. Now I’m sure you’re wondering why a Canadian girl with English/Welsh heritage is seen here sporting the red, black and yellow (yup, that’s face paint). It pains me to admit it, but I, for the sake of my marriage, betrayed every British bone in my body and cheered on the enemy.
That’s a lie. Marriage had nothing to do with it. You see, England was booted out by Germans in the round robin (devastating but true) and I figured any shred of dignity would be preserved if those who defeated us became the ultimate victors. I was wrong, I felt guilty! So very guilty. But then Germany emerged victorious (4-1) and all of a sudden I felt much, much better. Fair-weather fan you say? You say traitor; I hear survivor!
Game #2: Uruguay vs Netherlands
The second game we saw was a late semi-final match between Uruguay and the Netherlands, under the stars of Capetown. Speaking of stars, this was the first time I got to witness the graceful footwork of Diego Forlan from Uruguay, winner of the Golden Ball award for the overall tournament and one of my favourite players in the World Cup.
Not only did he score 5 goals for Uruguay during their journey to the semi finals and lead his squad to their best results in over 40 years… he has the best hair to hit the pitch since Roberto Baggio sported his epic ponytail throughout the 90’s. Wavy locks of brown hair that sway in the wind with every stride. One more reasons for housewives worldwide to tune-in. The game resulted with the Netherlands emerging victorious 3-2 over the South American favourites (unfortunately, as I was looking forward to seeing Forlan again). This was the beginning of the road to victory for the Dutch and a farewell for Uruguay.
Sigh. It is with great despair and disbelief that I look back onto our next match. After seeing the strength of the German national team in the quarters, I couldn’t wait to witness another great showing. From footwork, to movement, to accuracy and drive, I had never seen a side better than the Germans in their first showing against Argentina and I was thirsting for more. Unfortunately I left wholly parched as the Germans flopped in a 1-0 battle to their Spanish counterparts. Many blamed the Germans loss on missing Mueller, after he’d been suspended for receiving 2 yellow cards (the equivalent of 1 red card) in the quarters but to be honest, the game reflected total lack of passion, drive and commitment to a win and the fact that they were missing one of their best players should only have made them more inclined to up the efforts. Perhaps they underestimated the Spanish, who knows, but the game resulted in Spain moving onward to tackle the Dutch in the finals.
Game #4 – The Final: Netherlands vs Spain
The day started with a flight from Capetown to Johannesburg, and all of a sudden, there we were, at the finals of the 2010 World Cup. Surreal. Even more surreal was the scene that awaited us as we arrived near the stadium grounds: a sea of orange, jumping up and down together singing songs in Dutch and waving their flag proudly. We were decked out a la Canadian, deciding to sport our home colours for the final match – apparently we weren’t the only ones!
Surprisingly, we saw the red and white waving proudly at each game! Signs around the stadium and shouts greetings between Canucks as they pass each other by, flag in one hand, beer in the other. Perfection. Inside the stadium, we, the fans, were honoured with wave from Nelson Mandela, one of his last pubic appearances, and a life moment for myself and my family. To see someone who had such an impact on the course of history really makes you think twice about your own ability to change the course of your own life, and that of others.
The final match was by far not the best display of football I’ve ever seen. The game lacked lustre and the Spanish played kick and run while the Dutch dove as if they were Italians in disguise. The final score resulted in a 1-0 victory for Spain over the Dutch, to the dismay of thousands in the crowd.
Despite the disappointing showing at the final game, the memory of being in Johannesburg for the finals of the first World Cup to take place in Africa was one that will never be replicated. The respect I have for the way the tournament was executed by the organizers is only surmounted for the respect I acquired for South Africans in their unified effort to move forward and leave a turbulent history behind.