So the end of the World Cup happened and we have to wait another four years before we can enjoy it all over again. Now this may not seem like a long time to those of you young enough to have your best years ahead of you, but to us older types, the years are increasingly precious and we don’t know how many more we will be able to attend. I would hope to still be attending well into my seventies and beyond. For some this will probably be the last, and for Nelson Mandela surely the oldest man in Soccer City last night, his appearance before the game capped a near perfect tournament. If the football had been better, it would have been a perfect 10, that’s for sure.
Watching on TV is never satisfactory, and if England had made the final, we would have been there, unlikely as that event would have been of course. Some good friends had been lucky enough to have made the trip, David who I cycled with earlier this year on the Dallaglio Cycleslam, Ian who climbed Kilimanjaro with the rest of us in 2004 and Dom, with whom I went to school and who was the host with the most whilst we were in Johannesburg and I am sure they would have sucked in the atmosphere, which I know would have been electric. But to be there, in that stadium in Soccer City, when Nelson Mandela was driven in on his little golfing buggy across a white carpet, well that must have been a very special moment, and boy did Madiba have the biggest smile in the whole world. He must have been so proud, so pleased and above all so happy that his beloved land had delivered this the biggest sporting tournament in the world. Whether or not FIFA had put this old, frail man who will be 92 next week under pressure is another story ( as they say in South Africa). Rather fitting that he did not stay for the matchthen, as it really did not do anything to enhance the reputation of the so called beautiful game. Indeed another ‘leader’ looked on whilst the battle between the total footballers of Spain and the Total Cloggers of the Netherlands played out. One Robert Mugabe. Hero of Zimbabwe in 1980, now pariah of Africa. What exactly that evil man was doing there is anyone’s guess. If FIFA invited him, shame on them. If South Africa invited him, shame on them too. The only black mark in this whole tournament was his presence at this final.
The game was absorbing if ultimately disappointing. Spain’s football is sublime and in Iniesta, Xavi, Busquets and Alonso they have a quartet that not only pull every string, but make every string sing. Not since Brazil 70 have we seen such masters.
This was a victory for the little man. Even their power house at the back, Puyol is shorter than would be accepted in the English leagues and plays with his heart on his sleeve. With his distinctive locks, resembling Tony Iommi or David Coverdale circa 1976 (ironically in the times of the truly great Dutch footballers), he was an inspiration. Spain hold the ball and as my co watcher last night Steve said, ‘they are not afraid to go backwards’. By contrast Holland decided to become the new West Germany. No shortage of skill was secondary to pure muscle and more often than not overt aggression. Van Bommell plays like Graeme Souness without the touch and De Jong is like Jimmy Case. One attack on Alonso begged the question ‘was De Jong a big Bruce Lee fan as a kid’ karate, or otherwise, and De Jong was lucky not to be sent off before half time. Indeed the martial arts approach was contagious with Schneidjer auditioning as Cato for an episode in the Green Hornet. I bet Howard Webb wondered what he had walked into last night.
A moment of sublime brilliance from Spain’s biggest bit part player, Fabregas, a man who would walk into any of the other thirty one teams taking part, was met equally by one from the diminutive Iniesta, who for me was the man of the match, despite some journalists and commentators stating he had had a poor game (?). The cup was Spain’s and they swapped shirts from blue to red (with a star of course) as is their tradition – I have now found out – but a significant departure from World Cup tradition, I may add. A future trivia question will be what is unusual about the picture of Spain receiving the World Cup in 2010. Add in ‘who was the only unbeaten team in the tournament’ and children not yet born will never guess it was the part timers from New Zealand.
Faced with BBC TV coverage, ITV was frankly beyond the pale, it was evident that Lee Dixon, Alan Hansen, Alan Shearer and Gary Lineker had all been impressed by the people and the country that is South Africa. They were all visibly moved by the appearance of Mandela and all pleased that Spain had won. On a night where good triumphed over bad (barring one certain Robert Mugabe’s presence of course), the BBC ended their coverage with a District 9 style cinematic piece. Whether you thought it was cheese or not, and I did not, it did point to the questions that remain. Those of legacy, inequality, poverty and social justice. District 6 has long gone, but let’s hope its legacy is going now. Indeed let’s hope the World Cup 2010 is the kick start that all of Africa needs in this ever competitive world dominated by the new colonial powers of multinational globalisation.
South Africa – wave your flag with pride and belief. Well done.