Monday, November 26, 2007

Africa Gets Rave Reviews in First World Cup Test


Kudos to the South African Organizing Committee and FIFA for putting on a brilliant preliminary draw show.

The hosts put on a smooth-running show, with just one little glitch in Sunday's draw, sending visiting delegations from more than 150 nations away on Monday in various degrees of hope, expectation and, in a few cases, dismay.

Only 31 will return to join South Africa in the 2010 finals at the end of the two-year qualification trail of twists and turns.

The hosts stuttered a little when the build-up to an announcement of the tournament's slogan ended in embarrassment. South African organizing committee chairman Irvin Khoza was just about to reveal that "Celebrating Africa's humanity" was the choice when he was cut short. Television producers switched over to open the international feed to more than 170 countries, leaving the audience in Durban's International Convention Centre bemused and bewildered. But that's about all that happened.

The draw produced some controversy, particularly for England whose delegates looked shocked when the fates conspired to land them in the same European qualifying group again as Croatia.
Only four days earlier, Croatia crashed England's expected progress to the Euro 2008 finals with a shock 3-2 victory at England's Wembley Stadium.

Other teams came away happy. World champions Italy look sure to dominate a group in which only Bulgaria and Ireland should provide meaningful opposition and European champions Greece were beside themselves at getting nothing harder in their group than Israel and Switzerland.

South Africa will be thankful they do not have to qualify as hosts. The African section of the draw doubles as the qualifying competition for the 2010 African Cup of Nations and South Africa were drawn in the same group as traditional continental heavyweights Nigeria.

The organizers will no doubt congratulate themselves on switching the Soweto derby between Orlando Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs to Durban for the occasion.

Saturday's thrilling 2-2 draw, and particularly the uninhibited and passionate support of more than 50,000 fans, left a deep impression on international soccer visitors and whetted their appetite for what should be the biggest sporting party in history in 2010.

Honestly, I'm buzzing with excitement!! I can't wait!!

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