Friday, 16 July 2010

World Cup 2010: They think it's all over. Sadly, it is now



The World Cup is over. I'm home. Back in my charming little village in Buckinghamshire, about 25 miles west of London. Great to see the missus and the kids, great to recount the South African tales, great to use the brand-new barbecue, perhaps the only built-in "braai" in historic Chalfont St Giles!
But there's a hole in my life. The World Cup is over, and like so many others, I'm struggling to remember what I did before the whole thing got underway on June 11.
For me, it started years ago of course. I tapped out a book in six weeks last November, a novel which told how the Rainbow Nation's miracle was about to begin. Then I went out for the England cricket tour to South Africa, having set up my blog site with Andy Watts, the local internet guru.
Then South Africa tourism flew me out to their Indaba 2010 conference in early May. Since then, it hasn't stopped. An epic tournament, filled with drama on and off the field.
In brief, here's the statistics from my World Cup:
Newspapers: over 140 articles articles in an estimated 29 different newspapers, from USA Today and the Wall Street Journal in the US, to the Standard and Express in England and all over South Africa with translations appearing in India and Portugal among others. As I clip out the articles to create some kind of record of my trip, I find the Natal Mercury and the Shoot World Cup pull-out (which appeared in the Johannesburg Star, the Cape Argus, the Pretoria News, Natal Mercury and even Kimberley's Diamond Fields Advertiser, produced by the excellent Matshelane Mamabolo and dominated by the super Kevin McCallum) did me proudest.
Television: Apart from the usual Sky News stuff, there were two fascinating appearances on SABC2's Weekend Live plus interviews for Norwegian, Japanese, Indian and Italian television. Never saw those last four, but if anyone did, I hope I did okay!
Radio: nearly 50 crossings with David O'Sullivan on Johannesburg's 702 and CapeTalk's Aiden in the Mother City of South Africa, plus six or seven for BBC Radio 5. I did every Saturday lunch-time on WJR in the US which can be heard in 17 states, a couple with the BBC World Service and Ireland's NewsTalk, five or six for SABC's Radio 2,000 and one for a Portuguese outfit and various snippets for Guatemala, China and Denmark.
On-line: these are the verifiable numbers: YouTube 100,551, nealcollins.co.uk 30,129, Bleacherreport 128,730. How many of those are unique, different hits I'm not sure, but it puts up a figure of over 250,000 people.
I don't know how many readers/viewers/listeners actually paid heed to my views. Whether spoken, written or networked, I stuck to my guns.
When the foreign papers began their "South Africa sucks" campaign around April time, I firmly refuted their nonsense, sticking up for a nation which only shrugged off Apartheid 16 years ago.
There will be no bloodbaths, I said when the Daily Star's front page was emailed around the world. The stadiums, roads and hotels will be ready, I said when the Sun and Daily Mail said they were still building sites. The fans will be safe, I said when papers all around the world warned of crime and poor security.
Even on Sky News, when their Emma Hurd was down in Cape Town digging for anti-South African publicity at a squatter camp, I was on air saying such things wouldn't affect the World Cup.
They didn't. None of them. The stadiums were packed, the games started on time, the whole thing was magnificent.
I have made myself extremely unpopular in certain areas for being so outspokenly pro-South Africa. One site suggested I was paid by Durban's city council for being so keen on a 2020 Olympic bid. Rubbish. It's the best Olympic venue I've ever seen, and the official bid is underway now, six months after I first mentioned it here on December 29 lats year during the cricket tour.
An African Olympics is a certainty now. The IOL have been shamed in to it by FIFA's Sepp Blatter, not my favourite man but a visionary of sorts. He knew South Africa could do it, and stuck with them in a world full of doubters.
And ultimately, I should be happy. Crime in South Africa dipped to record lows during the World Cup. Security was perfect, just 170 arrests were made, a miracle of miracles. No bloodbaths, traffic snarl-ups, earthquakes, unfinished infrastructure, lethal snakes. How many times have I written that?
I was right all along. Of course, the foreign papers will make no apologies. None of them will call me and remind me: "Neal, you were right all along, we were wrong." South Africa, rightly, basks in the glory of a tournament which they pulled off with aplomb.
And I should be the happiest man in the world. Look at those stats above. I got the message out there, sold a few copies of my book.
But now it's over. Africa's first World Cup went off with barely a hitch. And here I sit, painting a fence, watering the hanging baskets, going to a school prize-giving, a county cricket final.
But what next? When you've been consumed by a crusade like South Africa 2010, how do you follow it?
Commuting into London has lost any allure it may have once held. The idea of doing shifts on the national newspapers and sniffing out a full-time role appalls me. There's a few Test matches coming up, the Ashes in Australia this winter... the start of the new Premier League season with England's rotten, over-paid let-downs.
Another book? A sequel to A GAME APART? Hardly. At 50p a book I'm never gone to get rich on current sales. Another career? Too late for all that at 49.
What I need is a new crusade. Any ideas? Feel free to leave them below. Help me lift the gloom. Please.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Webb looks back on toughest two hours of his career... as Capello reveals England's new sponsors




Under-fire World Cup final referee Howard Webb admits Soccer City on Sunday night was “the most difficult two hours of my career.”

England’s top referee, who has been refereeing top class football for five years, handed out a record 14 cards and sent off Johnny Heitinga as Holland were accused of trying to kick the triumphant Spaniards off the park.

Webb, 38, said: “It left me physically and emotionally drained but FIFA have been very supportive - not just about the final but our performances throughout the whole tournament."

Webb was confronted by an Orange grove of furious Dutchmen after the final whistle – and was also blasted by the Spaniards for not sending off Manchester City’s Nigel de Jong for a first-half kick into the chest of Real Madrid’s Xabi Alonso.

Many feel FIFA chief Sepp Blatter was less than fully supportive. He said: “We have to live with the errors of players and referees. I can only say it was a very hard task the officials had. It was not easy, really not easy. The side that played football won.”

But Keith Hackett, in charge of Premier League referees in England, backed his man. He said: " Out of all the referees at the World Cup, Howard was the ideal appointment. Had a referee with lesser experience been in charge, it could well have deteriorated into mass confrontation.

"You expect players to respond to a referee - and cautions normally serve to calm players down. But in this game, yellow cards had little effect on some players who continued to test his authority.

"It is unfair that Howard is being criticised because, overall, he had a superb game technically.”

Sorry about the doctored picture. Couldn't resist it. Twittered by SuperSports' Clinton van der Berg. And we all know what former police sergeant Webb looks like!

Neal Collins (nealcol) has almost finished promoting his World Cup novel A GAME APART in South Africa. See www.nealcollins.co.uk for more information... and the soon-to-be-written sequel!


Monday, 12 July 2010

World Cup 2010: The final analysis, Spain one, South Africa won



From the opening concert at the Orlando Stadium to the final burst of fireworks at Soccer City, the glory at this World Cup belonged not to Spain but to South Africa.

A grubby final was snatched after 114 goalless minutes by Andres Iniesta’s well-taken effort allowing Spain to erupt in celebration at last.

So often the under-achievers, Iniesta is just one of a dozen world-class La Rochas. Interesting then that the Barcelona element felt the need to parade the Catalan flag at the crucial, cup-lifting moment.

South Africa were supposed to be the divided country. Long accused of being incapable of hosting football’s greatest event, the teenagers of democracy got it together with gusto.

While Spain may have outlasted the local hopefuls, Bafana Bafana, by some distance, did any country of the 32 experience a greater nation-building month than the hosts?

Of course not. Spain will go home to their Basque/Castillian/Catalan nations with heads held high. But from where I sit, after nearly three months of travelling South Africa, this wasn’t about Spain 1, Netherland 0. It was simply South Africa won.

When I set out on this epic journey, nobody had even heard of Paul the Octopus or Luis Suarez’s hand. No. The foreign press were harping on about bloodbaths and muggings and unfinished infrastructure when I turned up in Durban for the Indaba 2010 Tourism conference on May 8.

For the next month, it was all about denying the doom-mongers. Strangely, England’s training camp in Phokeng was not “a dump” as the British tabloids described it. It was finished on time, and perfect for the job. You can’t blame the Bafokeng people for England’s appalling showing here.

Similarly, the roads and stadia were near-perfect. And the brand new King Shaka airport, apart from lacking a parking warden, was pretty good too.

Everywhere we travelled, foreign fans were ecstatic. Glad they had “taken the risk” of coming to deepest, darkest Africa. Were any wags mugged? Were any mugs wagged? Anybody bitten by deadly snakes or murdered in their hotel beds?

No.

Were the stadiums half-finished or half-empty? Not at the best supported World Cup since 1994. Did the fans come? Yes, despite the negative claptrap, over half a million travelled here. And they will return to encourage more to revisit this country, where whales, dolphins, elephants and lions can entertain as much as over-paid footballers, Diego Maradona or blind referees.

How many rugby or cricket World Cups, how many Olympics, have been this successful? How many times do you attend a major sports event to be struck not by the talent of the athletes but by the quality of the fans, the service, the sheer joy of being here?

Not many.

And now, no doubt, the tireless Danny Jordaan will receive apologies from everywhere... from The Sun to the New Zealand Herald, as the world realises that, actually, Africa does quite a good job when it comes to global events. Let’s count those retractions.

No, not one.

But there we were. After 64 matches in 10 perfect stadia, a riveting open ceremony and a technically incredible closing show. Nelson Mandela even popped in to give us a wave. We had the fireworks lighting the sky over Soweto, the Spaniards adding the World Cup to their European crown, the fans delighted to celebrate with them and their two flags.

One winner. South Africa. Where unbuntu, that feeling of being part of a family, overwhelmed the plethora of yellow cards and cynical fouls.

Pre-tournament favourites Spain won this World Cup with less goals than any side has ever managed before – they hardly thrilled us, apart from when they surprisingly lost their opening game against modest Switzerland. Holland set out to kick them off the park.

After the final I found myself arguing with former Arsenal "star" Perry Groves over the merits of Spain and the football at this World Cup. From where they sat, they weren't thrilled. Philistines. Mourning for England, they missed the whole point.

And it didn’t matter. Because all around, the lamentable, lovable vuvuzelas were blowing, the locals were dancing... and South Africa rather than Spain was united in self-congratulation.

Finally this quote from President Jacob Zuma: "When we won the rights to host the World Cup, we knew that working together we would be able to succeed. But what has happened has exceeded our expectations. That is because of the role played by our people, the South Africans. They are the stars and champions of this tournament."

Amen.



Sunday, 11 July 2010

World Cup 2010: Minute-by-minute guide to how Spain broke Dutch hearts at Soccer City


Sepp Blatter and Jacob Zuma hand over the World Cup. Spain are World Champions at last.

One Andres Iniesta goal in extra-time was enough. Not a great final, but a grand tournament in South Africa.

It ended with fireworks at Sun City... but we didn't have many crackers on the field. But hey, the football during this tournament has sometimes been peripheral to the main event. An nation emerging on the world stage.


Forget Spain 1 Netherlands 0, think South Africa won.


Oh, and Diego Forlan too. He walked away with the Player of the Tournament award for trying to lift Uruguay to glory single-handed. He also claims the Golden Boot... he tied on five goals with Miroslav Klose, Wesley Sneijder and David Villa, but he had more assists... three.


Vincente del Bosch nearly smiled there. The Spanish players are bouncing him. Dutch still struggling to come to terms with another World Cup final defeat. Now for the cup-lifting moment.


No wonder Arjen Robben's so angry. He had two one-on-ones to win it. Tears all over the pitch. Sneijder still my man of the tournament. But Spain did what I said they'd do. Crushed the life out of the Oranjes with possession. Did the same to Germany. Did the same all tournament. Apart from losing to Swiss in opening game. But credit to them... Navas livened things up, Iniesta man of the match before the goal.


FULL-TIME: Spain 1, Netherland 0. Iniesta gives the Spanish their first ever World Cup... and they hold the European Championship too. First side to do that since 1974 (Germany). Van Bommel complaining, Robben furious with referee Webb.


120 mins: Two extra minutes to play, another yellow card...I make that 14, five for Spain... and Holland must accept a third World Cup final defeat after 1974 and 1978. Torres, who played a part in the goal, pulls up injured.


116 mins: GOAL. SPAIN WIN THE WORLD CUP. Andres Iniesta scores, short range effort, well struck, Mathieson booked. Only Sneijder, Kuyt and the goalkeeper remain uncautioned. Iniesta booked too.


114 minutes: Sneijder, the free-kick specialist with five goals in the tournament, sees a deflected goal-kick go just wide. The World Cup, the golden boot, everything rested on that.


110 mins: Yellow for Van der Viel. Eleven yellows, eight for the Oranjes if you count Heintinga's double. A total of 40 shown in previous 11 World Cup finals.


108 mins: And finally, after nine yellow cards, it's a red for Dutchman John Heitinga, he gets the Zinedane Zidane treatment in a World Cup final with Spaniards waving their invisible cards again.


105 mins: Fernando Torres, apparently struggling with his knee, on for five-goal David Villa. Golden Boot will probably be shared unless Sneijder scores.


HALF-TIME IN EXTRA-TIME: and still we wait. Nice run from Fabregas but it comes to nothing. He and Robben have had the clear chances. Holland bring on Edson Braafheid of Celtic for his World Cup finals debut.


99 mins: Rafael van der Vaart to offer a second wind for Holland, De Jong off.


95 mins: GREAT CHANCE: Iniesta superb ball for Fabregas, Stekelen gets his left leg to it. Just like Casillas denying Robben earlier. Then Dutch go close from corner... it's got to come.


93 mins: Appeals for penalty as dozens of Spaniards fall in the box. Webb's right. It's a corner. And it comes to nothing.


FULL TIME: And for the second time since the tournament began, it's a goalless World Cup final after 90 minutes. Here comes extra-time. Now who was it told you Spain beating Germany in the semi-final was a dreadful result for this tournament? I know Holland have been little better, but history will show the Spanish in this tournament were stultifying. Even if they snatch it. And they probably will.


88 mins: Spain have 56 percent of the possession. But that's what they do. Keep it. Sideways, backwards. Only Navas and Iniesta forge forward.


86 mins: Arsenal's Cesc Fabregas on for Xabi Alonso. Please Cesc, show us some magic.


83 mins: Just as Spain look like they're going to squeeze the life out of the Oranjes, Robben breaks with pure pace but Casillas takes it off his toes. Robben booking No9 for complaining about Puyol's efforts to slow him down.


77 mins: MISS OF THE MATCH: Ramos, free header, no pressure... puts it over the bar from perfect corner. Needs to cut his hair. Or is it the headband? Spain look the more likely.


69 mins: Oh Jesus! Navas cross, Villa denied by Stekelenburg. Great chance. Navas looks lively. Holland take off Dirk Kuyt for Eljero Elia.


66 mins: Capdevila the eighth yellow, Spain 3, Netherlands 5. What a load of rubbish. Not ref Webb's fault... Spain induce niggle, it's the way they win.


61 mins: CHANCE OF THE MATCH: Sneijder sends Robben away, in the clear, but Casillas gets a trailing leg to the finish. Great save from the Spanish captain.


59 mins: Jesus Navas on for Pedro. Torres was warming up though.


58 mins: 84,490 people have spent a lot of money getting here. 700 million around the world are bored. This is terrible... Spain have ruined this World Cup, with a little help from the Netherlands.


55 mins: David Villa goes down, judging by his reaction he may have lost a leg. But Heitinga becomes the fifth Dutch caution, seventh of the night. Amazingly, Villa seems okay now.


53 mins: Dutch captain Gio van Bronkchorst gets a caution in his final game before retirement. That's six, lots of Spaniards waving imaginary yellow cards. It's awful.


48 mins: Spain start fast again, register their second corner. No subs at half-time.


HALF-TIME: Apart from the early Ramos chance, Spain have rarely threatened. Holland managed a late Robben effort. Two saves, a bizarre moment when Dutch nearly scored inadvertently... and five yellow cards. Even worse than I predicted. Spain have this knack of ruining any game with their pedantic build-up and frantic flopping at every challenge. Mind you, as I said at the time, De Jong should have gone for his karate kick into the chest of Xabi Alonso.


46 mins: Aarjen Robben finally draws a proper save from Spain's Casillas in first half injury time.


42 mins: Wesley Sneijder catches Busquets. Both go down. Webb has a long chat but no sixth yellow card.


38 mins: It's become a bore war in South Africa. Spain hold the ball well but their build-up is so painfully slow. Neither side look likely to score. If only Germany had beaten the Spanish, we'd have had a game.


33 mins: Bizarre. Carles Puyol hurt. Dutch try to give the ball back to Iker Casillas... and Van Der Wiel's hoof bounces over his head, gets a touch, nearly goes in. Then Van Persie gives corner back to Casillas. Biggest thrill of a very ordinary first half-hour.


28 mins: Now Manchester City's Nigel De Jong gets the fifth yellow card. Boot in the chest of Xabi Alonso. Nasty. Referee Webb making his mark for England but he's struggling to keep things civil. This is not a great World Cup final.


25 mins: Van Bommel booked for foul on Andres Iniesta. Then Ramos ups the niggle with a card of his own. Four from Webb so far. Reach for record books.


23 mins:But in the tournament so far, Spain have picked up just four yellow cards, Netherlands 16. Robben weaving his way through. Orange corner. Needs a first half goal.


16 mins: Now that's a proper yellow. Carles Puyol, who practices yoga, clumps Arjen Robben. 1-1 on bookings.


14 mins: Robin van Persie is Webb's first booking. Second mis-timed tackle. But Capdevila goes down like he's been shot. Sure he'll be okay.



10 mins: Ramos again. Making things hairy from right back. Narrow angle, cleared for a corner. Then into the side netting from David Villa. It's all Spain.



5 mins: Maarten Stekelenburg makes first big save of the final. Sergei Ramos must have thought his header was on the way in. Spain on top.



3 mins: Pedro, from the Canary Islands, looking lively. Must know Spain have scored just 7 goals here. Nobody has ever won the World Cup with less than 11 (England in 66, Brazil 84). Holland already have 12.



Dutch kick-off. Pennants exchanged, president Jacob Zuma shakes all hands available. Hope he doesn't come across the pitch invader in the tunnel. Could be trouble. Two sides, no previous victories. It's going to be special whatever happens.


Security have removed the pitch invader who tried to grab the World Cup. Just as well really. Wouldn't be the same without a trophy! Anthems. Moving moments. No vuvuzelas.



My old pal Neil Ashton on the News of the World says English referee Howard Webb checked up Iker Casillas's shorts while the teams were in the tunnel. Guess he's got to be thorough in the land of Caster Semanya!


Dutch captain Gio van Bronckhorst's last game. Mark van Bommel's biggest challenge. Signs that Robin van Persie was starting to find his form in the semi-final. But Spain have the best midfield you'll ever see... no room for Cesc Fabregas. Says it all.


CONFIRMED: Liverpool's Fernando Torres didn't even take part in the warm-up. Rumours that he spent the last three days largely in an oxygen chamber at the Spanish base in Potchefstroom appear to be true. The knee had surgery on in April is clearly still a problem.

Mysteriously, Nelson Mandela's appearance only gets the briefest of shows on SuperSport and SABC, South Africa's two live World Cup channels. He looked fine next to his wife, Gra├ža Machel on the back of a golf buggy thing. Is it a political thing? This was the big moment of the World Cup... very strange.
Anyway, back to the football: Gregory van der Wiel and Nigel de Jong return from suspension to replace Khalid Boulahrouz and Demy De Zeeuw in the Dutch team, Spain unchanged from their semi, Pedro in for Torres. Erm... even after his refusal to pass to his out-of-form team-mate in the semi-final against Germany? Word here is that Torres has spent most of the week in an oxygen chamber at Spain's Potchefstroom base... his knee's not right.


Teams arriving. In Amsterdam, they've told fans not to come to the city. Too many supporters gathering at Museumplein.

Question is, after all this, a glittering opening ceremony and Nelson Mandela's long-awaited appearance, how does the final ever match what we've just seen?


Netherlands: 1-Maarten Stekelenburg; 2-Gregory van der Wiel, 3-John Heitinga, 4-Joris Mathijsen, 5-Giovanni van Bronckhorst; 7-Dirk Kuyt, 6-Mark van Bommel, 10-Wesley Sneijder, 8-Nigel de Jong, 11-Arjen Robben; 9-Robin van Persie.

Spain: 1-Iker Casillas; 15-Sergio Ramos, 3-Gerard Pique, 5-Carles Puyol, 11-Joan Capdevila; 14-Xabi Alonso, 8-Xavi, 6-Andres Iniesta, 16-Sergio Busquets; 18-Pedro, 7-David Villa.

Referee: Howard Webb (England)


Breaking news: Fernando Torres left out of the final. Pedro will start for Spain. Nelson Mandela is just emerging on to the pitch on a caddy cart. Brilliant.

And so it begins. The beginning of the end. The closing ceremony of the 2010 World Cup. Quite breathtaking. And I don't just mean Shakira, the adopted Colombian, belting out Waka Waka, the World Cup anthem.

Stunning FX being played out on the pitch at Soccer City, the only stadium I've only known to get a spontanteous arrival when you arrive and see it from the Rea Vaya coaches bussing us in.

Now Ladysmith Black Mbazo (Mbazo means axe), the male choir made famous by Paul Simon's Gracelands album in 1987.

This is going to be some night for a nation, a continent, some said would never be able to host a World Cup...

Nelson Mandela, too frail to attend the opening ceremony after the tragic death of his grand-daughter on June 11, is rumoured to be on his way. He will "greet the fans" for 15 minutes then go home to watch the final between Spain and the Netherlands.

The graphics continue to stun.... but how about this from South African president Jacob Zuma? "When we won the rights to host the World Cup, we knew that working together we would be able to succeed. But what has happened has exceeded our expectations. That is because of the role played by our people, the South Africans. They are the stars and champions of this tournament."