Hosts desperate to prove they are worthy

MORRIS DALLA COSTA, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:31 PM ET

JOHANNESBURG – There is a real desperation in South Africa just hours before the start of this 2010 World Cup.

Hundreds of thousands of fans and media are descending on South Africa, a country that is desperate to prove FIFA did not make a mistake in awarding an event many believe it should never have gotten.

The focus of a World Cup should always be on the game itself.

It should be on the debate about who will win, which players will start and which formations a coach plans to use. It should always be about club fitness, quality of play and star players who will become part of history for what they do – or don't do – in the tournament.

The host country opens the tournament Friday against Mexico. South Africa, known here as “Bafana Bafana,” was given little chance of advancing beyond the group stage but in the last two months has begun to play better. It has given a nation more hope.

Hope that it won't be the first host nation of a World Cup to go home after the first round.

But the focus of this event, virtually from the moment they were granted the tournament, has been about the ability of South Africa to run the event.

There was enormous concern about crime, about infrastructure that in turn spills into technology, traffic and organization. There was enormous concern about cost and price gouging.

What is the legacy South Africa was going to leave, not only the World Cup but the continent itself?

Thus, the desperation of a nation.

It has taken some time for the nation to catch World Cup excitement but that excitement has arrived.

The country asked fans to blow the famous vuvuzela at noon Wednesday and when the appointed time came, Johannesburg produced a massive sound.

There was a large gathering at the centre of the city.

Groups of fans randomly stood along the street dressed in South Africa's colours, waving flags, blowing vuvuzelas and greeting people who drove by. South Africans, at least early on, have gone out of the way to make everyone feel at home.

South African fans make a point of sounding excited about the event even if at times it looks and sounds forced.

But in reality, it remains just that.

Not surprisingly, Danny Jordan, the head of the country's organizing committee, says it will be the best World Cup ever held.

Yet in the next breath he urges fans to head to stadiums early to avoid stampedes like the one that happened Sunday during the friendly between Nigeria and North Korea. The rush by fans injured a number of people.

Events that claim to be the best don't have to warn people to come early so they don't get stomped on.

Several days ago, Portuguese journalists were robbed at gunpoint at the lodge where they were staying. Thursday, Chinese journalists had money and photographic equipment stolen while they walked on the street.

In Durban, three Greek players had money stolen from their hotel room.

Traffic in Johannesburg is going to be dreadful. The Gau train, which just opened to the public, had several ticket terminals crash, leading to long lineups.

As for signage, don't look for much because it isn’t there. More mass confusion.

The stunning Soccer City stadium in Johannesburg provides a contrast to the area in which it is built. It sits on an open field, a monument to the enormous investment that is the World Cup.

Not far from the stadium is Soweto, one of South Africa's poorest areas.

For a country that has such poverty, one doesn't see many beggars. That's because the government has moved them out to provide less of an eyesore for the thousands of visitors.

There is great hope for this tournament and this nation.

The unique setting offers mouth-watering potential for something different. The populace is desperate enough to elevate emotions to incomparable highs. There is a lot at stake off the pitch.

The bottom line won't be known until the tournament is well under way.

South Africa doesn't have to stage the best World Cup. It has to stage a competent one.

If it doesn't, the legacy it will leave will be a death knell for every developing country that one day hopes to stage such an event.


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