Monday, June 29, 2009

What Did the 2009 Confederations Cup Teach Us?

It's all over. The 2009 Confederations Cup is in the books and Brazil reigns supreme as the greatest team in the world.

Ok, maybe not. Or maybe so ... Hard to tell. What does the Confederations Cup really mean?

One thing the Cup does is serve as a dress rehearsal for the 2010 World Cup. This year's version surely showed the world what to expect come next summer: Raucous crowds, vuvuzelas and exciting play.

What else did we learn?

Here are five things we've learned from the Confederations Cup according to the Guardian's Johnathan Wilson, who was on the ground in South Africa.

#1 and 2 are interesting: Spain can be beaten and it's cold in the winter time in South Africa. Fair enough.

What do you think about #3? The world wide introduction of the vuvuzela?

"Those African trumpets?" Xabi Alonso said with a look of genuine disgust. "They make a terrible noise. I don't think it's a very good idea to have them on sale outside the grounds. Here's a piece of advice for Fifa: they should try to ban those things. It's not distracting but that noise is a bit annoying."

It seems like an innocent enough comment. Why, after all, shouldn't Alonso complain if something irks him? But it prompted fury among South African fans and was, it seems, part of the reason why the home crowd got behind the US in their semi-final victory over Spain. "South Africa is a noisy country," blasted a leader in the Daily Sun. "Foreigners should get used to it." A letter in the same paper, meanwhile, accused Alonso of being a modern-day conquistador.

You may know that the idea they're connected to the myth that baboons are killed by loud noise is farcical. You may know that they've only really been around for four or five years. You may despair of people who tell you that they're part of African football (they're not: I've been to three African Cups of Nations and heard the drumming of the Beninois and the Ivorians, the trumpets and trombones of the Nigerians, even the banjo-playing of Ali, the grinning and omnipresent Tunisian, but I'd never heard a vuvuzela until a fortnight ago). You may be driven slowly insane by them. But it's probably best not to mention it.

As far as I'm concerned, the noise kind of fades into the background once the play starts. I'm ok with them.

Wilson's 4th thing learned is that Brazil is pretty good. Kinda knew that already.

#5 is interesting. South Africa's almost ready. But not quite.

Two stories: a) driving back from Bloemfontein to Johannesburg, we ran out of fuel a couple of miles outside Soweto at 4am in a thick and swirling mist.

We walked to the nearest toll plaza, and were rescued by a short man with a moustache called November. He had no reason to help us but willingly hotwired his own car (I think), turned his hazard lights on and drove the wrong way up a slip road to get to a petrol station. His was merely an extreme example of the general welcoming attitude on the part of locals, fans and stewards.

b) After an excellent steak at the Melville Grill, I got a lift back to Sandton, where I was staying. I got out of the car, and went through the security gates, only vaguely aware of two vehicles screeching to a halt in the driveway. It was only the next day I found out what had happened next. The first car contained a white couple, in clear distress. The driver of the second car, who was black, leapt out, remonstrated angrily with the driver of the first, and then pulled a gun from a hip holster — at which the friend who had given me a lift sped off.

As he admitted, his first thought was that this was one of the car-jackings for which Johannesburg is notorious. Only later did it dawn on him that a carjacker probably wouldn't bother with a holster, and the likelihood was that the man with the gun was a plain-clothes police officer. But how on earth would you tell?
I can only rely on this journalist's view point and other man-on-the-ground reports I've read, such as this one from the BBC's Simon Austin.

So? What do you think?

ESPN To Make Huge Committment to 2010 World Cup

According to the great EPL Talk soccer news site, ESPN have announced their plans for next year's 2010 World Cup.

Expect wall-to-wall coverage of the world's biggest sporting event, with all of the network's World Cup coverage from on-site in South Africa, totaling more than 65 hours of original content.

Not only that, there will be a nightly World Cup Live show (30 minutes) shown on ESPN's family of networks and pre-match, halftime and post-match shows, shown on ABC, ESPN or ESPN2.

Sounds like ESPN is going all out to show a great World Cup.

What do you think?

Has Soccer Arrived in the USA?

Ok, so the United States gave Brazil all it could handle in the 2009 Confederations Cup final, falling to the 5-time World Cup champions, 3-2.

But what does it really mean?

According to the Boston Globe's Mark Stokes, this final could be the match that pushes soccer into the forefront of American sports.

David Beckham and MLS haven't done it. Can a spunky USA team in South Africa in 2009 do it?
Have a read and send us your opinion.

They came, they saw, and they almost conquered the world!

Bob Bradley’s US soccer team had their hearts broken in Ellis Park, Johannesburg, on Sunday, coming within sixteen minutes of one of the biggest shocks in footballing history, yet ultimately failing to lift the Confederations Cup thanks to a late one-two punch from five-time world champions, Brazil.

We kicked every ball with them, held our collective breath through countless Brazilian raids and thought the gods were on our side as the clock ticked down towards full time. But alas it was not to be!

After an enthralling opening half from the Screaming Eagles the underdogs lead 2-0 at the break. Clint Dempsey registered his third goal of the competition after only ten minutes, the Fulham midfielder ghosting into an advanced position and getting the slightest of touches to Jon Spector’s cross before watching the ball drift wide of Julio Caesar and into the corner of the net.

If the American players were in dreamland following Dempsey’s strike they were positively in Heaven seventeen minutes on when Landon Donovan led a breakout from inside his own half. The pint-sized striker fed Chalie Davies on the left and took a wonderful return pass from the former Boston College player. The LA front man still had much to do but produced a deft cut inside his marker, worthy of anyone in a Brazilian shirt, before unleashing an unstoppable shot past the goalkeeper to send his team mates wild with delight.

Suddenly the impossible dream was possible. But Brazil stormed back with a superb second-half display.

Luis Fabiano fired home within mere seconds of the restart, turning the brilliant Jay DeMerit before rifling a left foot shot past Tim Howard.

But the pressure proved too much at the other end and, after seeing Howard steal the ball from his feet, Luis Fabiano was on hand to convert a Kaka cross which skimmed across the face of the goal from the left - Robinho's initial shot hitting the crossbar and falling into the path of his strike partner.

Coming on 74 minutes the equalizer had the effect of dropping US heads and more than a couple of passes went astray in the middle of the park. The Americans had been brilliant under the aerial threat all week, but were found wanting on 84 minutes when Lucio was allowed time and room to meet Elano's corner with thundering header that flew off a post and into Howard's top right-hand corner to complete a remarkable comeback.

In the final analysis this was a tournament which instilled pride in the American soccer public more than any other venture in the past. This was also a tournament for all those soccer moms and dads who devote countless hours of their lives (and gallons of gas) to advancing their kids’ soccer education. Finally the parents can see tangible results and perhaps prospects for their offspring in years to come.

And take it from a European born soccer scribe, this is a team which showed many a nation across the pond about belief in oneself and possessing the courage to take on the so called ‘best in the world.’

The USA will be in next year’s World Cup in South Africa, of that there is little doubt now. Hopefully they’ll have the support of the nation this time around, not the half-hearted effort of years past. And it’s not every day of the week that we see foreigners sporting the star-spangled banner, but judging by the thousands of flag waving neutrals in the crowd at Ellis Park, this team has apparently done more for the image of America abroad than any politician in recent memory.

So move over David Beckham - your time has come and gone. US soccer is now in the hands of the blue collar kids from Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Texas and, more importantly, in the hands of a public which apparently has had its appetite whetted and cannot wait for next summer.

It’s a subject which has been debated for decades, but after all its trials and tribulations in the land of the free and the home of the brave, the time may now be at hand.

Whisper it very quietly: Soccer may finally have arrived in America.

FIFA Pleased with Confederations Cup

Now that the 2009 Confederations Cup is over (congrats to Brazil from a disgruntled American), how did it go?

The 2010 World Cup dress rehearsal seems to have gone over well with football's world governing body FIFA. The organization's president, Sepp Blatter, addressed the media today.

"South Africa is heading in the right direction and the Local Organizing Committee (LOC) and the South African government have done an exceptional job, but there are still challenges to be addressed," Mr Blatter said.

He added that the hospitality, the stadiums and the reception by South Africans was wonderful, but emphasized that adequate accommodation, the transportation system, crowd control outside the stadium, the park-and-ride system and a few other logistics remained a major challenge.

"These challenges need to be addressed and I'm confident that the LOC working with FIFA and the government will pay attention to these challenges before the World Cup," he said.

Despite the challenges facing South Africa, Mr Blatter has given the country 7.5 points out of ten and encouraged the LOC to work hard to reach the maximum points during the much anticipated international sporting event.

He told reporters that as part of speeding up the process, the FIFA Organizing Committee will meet regularly with the LOC to discuss the challenges and how South Africa can improve in making this African World Cup the best ever.

Meanwhile, Mr Blatter met with South African President Jacob Zuma and Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe, who pledged to coordinate the process of preparations for the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

"The South African government has shown great commitment and as FIFA we will work with them and the LOC to ensure that South Africa and Africa at large deliver a flourishing World Cup which will leave a great legacy," he said.

MY POV: Now can we do something about the vuvuzelas?

I wasn't in South Africa. But from what I saw on my TV back in New York, the crowds looked like they were having fun. While this isn't in FIFA's bottom line, it's a good start.

South Africa's wonderful showing in getting to the semi finals didn't hurt either.

Now, onward and upward. The Cup's ever so close ...

Friday, June 26, 2009

Heartbreak for South Africa

South Africa came oh-so-close to advancing to the Confederations Cup final against the United States this Sunday. For now, they'll have to settle for a third-place match against Spain.

Still, the host nation's performance against Brazil in a 1-0 loss in the semi final has made believers of Bafana Bafana's supporters.

They showed heart, passion and true grit against one of the world's football giants. A bounce here and there and we'd be talking about South Africa, not Brazil, in the final.

Bafana Bafana skipper Joel Santana says his side have improved considerably during the Confederations Cup.

Santana thinks his team could prove competitive when they host the World Cup next year.

"We've improved a lot, it's been great for a lot of my young players," he said.

"It's their first competition at this level. That makes me very happy, it has been excellent preparation for the World Cup."

Santana said he was delighted with the steep learning curve climbed by his team at the two-week tournament, even though they scored only twice.

South Africa were beaten by a late Dani Alves free-kick by the five-time world champions at Ellis Park and the coach was proud of the team's performance.

"We played very well and it was great for our confidence," Santana said.

"We showed good discipline and great defense against a team who are five-time world champions and it was always going to be a difficult match."

Bafana had initially struggled under Santana - failing to make it to the last round of qualifying for the 2010 African Cup of Nations, but the Brazilian says his aim has always been the global showpiece next year.

"My task is to prepare the team for the World Cup," he said.

"Now I have my squad, I know all the players and their abilities. There are two or three positions that need improving but what is important is that we have many more testing matches ahead of us."

South Africa will play friendlies against Serbia, Germany, Ireland, Norway and Iceland between August and October.

MY POV: If you're South African, your head should be held up high today! The national team played their hearts out and gave the world a great exhibit of what could be next summer. Let's hope they improve as the year goes on and make an even better showing on the grand stage next year.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Final Stage of African World Cup Qualifiers At Halfway Point

We're almost to the 2010 World Cup in Africa, as the continent is now half way through their last phase of Cup qualifying.

Where do we stand? Let's take a look at the standings for the five groups.

Remember, the five group winners go to the 2010 World Cup. The top three in each group advance to the 2010 African Cup of Nations in Angola. Qualifying starts again in September.



Gabon 2 2 0 0 5 1 6

Togo 3 1 1 1 1 3 4

Morocco 3 0 2 1 1 2 2

Cameroon 2 0 1 1 0 1 1

In Group A, Gabon is the surprise leader over the likes of Cameroon and Morocco.
What's up with Cameroon? They've yet to score a goal! Get it together, lads.


Tunisia 3 2 1 0 4 1 7
Nigeria 3 1 2 0 3 0 5
Kenya 3 1 0 2 3 6 3
Mozambique 3 0 1 2 1 4 1

Tunisia has always had a strong team. Can they keep the Nigerians at bay? They play again on September 5th ...


Algeria 3 2 1 0 5 1 7
Zambia 3 1 1 1 2 3 4
Rwanda 2 0 1 1 0 1 1
Egypt 2 0 1 1 2 4 1

What's up with the Egyptians, reigning African champions? The Egyptians are disappointing again. Luckily, there's still time to get it together. I'd like to see a run from them in the World Cup. Until then, the Algerians are doing a great job at the top of the group, letting in just one but scoring five.


Ghana 3 3 0 0 5 0 9
Mali 3 1 1 1 4 4 4
Benin 3 1 0 2 2 4 3
Sudan 3 0 1 2 1 3 1

Group favorite Ghana is riding high. Can anyone catch them? Doubtful.


Ivory Coast 3 3 0 0 10 3 9
B Faso 3 2 0 1 7 5 6
Guinea 3 1 0 2 5 7 3
Malawi 3 0 0 3 1 8 0

Ivory Coast is doing exceptionally well. The surprise package is Burkina Faso, a mere three points behind the group leaders. Still, Ivory Coast just defeated their major competition and another three points would see them inch ever so closer to the 2010 Cup.

There you have it! For a full schedule of fixtures, please click here.

We're so close, I can almost taste it!

Kid's Football in the Heart of Africa

After today's shocking 2-0 USA victory over top-ranked Spain, only three matches remain at the 2009 Confederations Cup.

We'll be back next summer for the big one, the 2010 World Cup.

Today, the excellent Guardian news paper of England is taking a look at South Africa's culture of football through a series of 'stunning photographs taken in the Erasmia and Soweto townships near Johannesburg.'

Do yourself and check out this series of wonderful, smart photos by photographers Vladimir Rys, Jamie McDonald, Christof Koepsel, Jeff Mitchell and Shaun Botterill of Getty Images.

Defending champions face problems

Marcello Lippi admits world champions Italy are going through a 'difficult time' following their disappointing showing at the Confederations Cup. The Azzurri upset the international football odds, crashing out of the event in South Africa after a 3-0 defeat to Brazil on Sunday, with the Italian Football Federation president, Giancarlo Abete, critical of the team's performances at the tournament.

Coach Lippi, who led Italy to World Cup success in 2006, was left frustrated by what he saw and admits that a number of players might not be part of the squad next year - should Italy, as expected, qualify for the 2010 World Cup.

Lippi’s men top qualifying Group Eight, which also includes the Republic of Ireland, but their rivals will have noted the Azzurri's poor displays and struggles in South Africa. The coach admitted: “It's the most difficult time since I took over the national team. We have not played good football. He added: “There is still time to work before the World Cup and I never said that this group will be the group that will play in South Africa next year.”

The age of the Italian squad has been a point of discussion in the past, but it certainly looks like being an issue for next year’s finals with a lack of quality youngsters to select from. The likes of Gennaro Gattuso, Mauro Camoranesi, Luca Toni and Andrea Pirlo remain mainstays in the Azzurri’s squad, with the quartet 32, 32, 33 and 31 respectively by the time next year’s tournament kicks-off.

A lack of goals is also a continuing theme, with four goals in their last four competitive matches. The priority is always given to defensive matters and Italy may need to look to two young players to deliver the goods. Villarreal’s Giuseppe Rossi scored twice in Italy’s only Confederations Cup success, a 3-1 win over ten-man USA, while Lippi may also have one eye on the Premier League next season, with Manchester United’s Kiko Macheda set for more chances with the English champions.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

President Obama to Attend 2010 World Cup?

The Confederations Cup nears its conclusion in South Africa this week ...

The days tick down to the 2010 World Cup next summer ...

My computer is broken AGAIN!

And news that US President Barack Obama may attend the world's biggest sporting event in South Africa next summer.

The White House would not confirm Monday that President Obama will head to Africa for the Cup, but top aides already seemed to be sizing up tickets for the opening ceremony and first match.

Earlier, FIFA president Sepp Blatter said the president had accepted an invitation to attend the opening of the world football extravaganza next year.

"You know that heads of state are extremely busy and hopefully his schedule will allow him to attend," Blatter told reporters in Johannesburg.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said he could not yet say whether Obama would go to the event, but as a former college soccer goalkeeper, sounded like he couldn't wait for the possible trip.

"I asked specifically... in order to get my seat early," Gibbs said at his daily briefing.

"I'm told from scheduling that the president has accepted a meeting with the head of FIFA World Cup, but we have not yet altogether made plans. I can assure you that a small group of us have assembled in order to move the president in that direction."

The opening ceremony for the 2010 World Cup will be at the new 100,000-seat Soccer City stadium on the outskirts of Soweto. The match is likely to feature either hosts South Africa or defending world champions Italy.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Confederations Cup: Unmarketable?

So says South African journalist Chris Moerdyk in a scathing editorial, a South African news web site.

Take a look ... also, make sure to read some of the harsh comments Mr. Moerdyk receives for his opinion, of which I agree ...

Confederations Cup important? Sure, I suppose so.

They're still glorified friendlies in my opinion. I'm more eager to see World Cup qualifying and the big show come next June.

Still, the games have been fun. And the vuvuzela ... oh, the vuvuzela ...

Here's the article ... agree?
While local football organisers have been singularly stupid and more than just a touch arrogant in handling the issue of marketing the Confederations Cup, when you look at it logically the event is probably unmarketable anyway.

I mean, just what do the critics mean when they say it hasn't been marketed? I get the impression that what most of them wanted to see was banners, flags and billboards all over the place - at airports, in main streets and shopping centres.

The point I want to make is would that have helped sell more tickets? Would that have attracted more TV viewers? In a nutshell, is hype on its own enough to do a marketing job?

And the answer is definitely no.

Like any product, a sporting event has to have certain essentials before it can be marketed.

It has to be relevant. It has to be desirable. And most of all it has to be affordable.

What made the recent IPL such a success? Certainly not a lot of marketing hype before it started. In fact, there was hardly any. However, the IPL was relevant in terms of cricket lovers being able to go and see some of the world's top players in action. It was also affordable.

Sure, the Confed Cup will see some of the world's top players in action. But, it is chickenfeed compared with a lot of the world's great football contests and with what's coming up in less than a year. And from what I am told about ticket prices, it is hardly affordable.

So, no amount of hype, marketing, pizzazz, billboards, flags and posters would really have done much to entice more interest than is already there.

And given that the objective of marketing is create and raise awareness of a product or service, I would suggest that anyone who was even vaguely interested in football knew darn well that the Confed Cup was coming.

Captive audience

Frankly, the only possible reason for making a massive marketing effort for the Confed Cup would have been to promote South Africa as a tourism and investment destination. But then, would this have been an efficient investment?

Probably not, given that the big publicity that this country will receive will be during the global TV broadcasts of this event and the 2010 World Cup when the country will be showcased.

That in my opinion, will be the most important part of the overall marketing effort because there will be a captive audience of billions.

Frankly, I'm not convinced that the Confed Cup is that marketable. Let's face it, the whole concept was created purely as an almost token dress rehearsal for World Cups. Marketing a sports event is damn difficult and sometime utterly pointless when the product isn't right.

Take the British and Irish Lions Tour of South Africa. When they played against the Sharks last Wednesday, the stadium was practically empty. No amount of marketing would have made it any fuller. Why? Because with no Springboks in the Sharks team, the Lions were effectively playing against a very second rate team which they predictably thrashed.

Which meant that the product in that case, just wasn't relevant. It was a bit of a farce and the rugby public realised that before the game even started and just stayed away. No amount of marketing would have changed anything.

What to Do About the Vuvuzela (and some Vuvuzela Love)

According to Reuters, FIFA is to discuss the future of the vuvuzela, the noisy plastic trumpet blown at the Confederations Cup which has drawn complaints from European television stations. and bloggers like myself.

FIFA president Sepp Blatter told a media briefing he was aware of complaints the sound of the instrument was drowning out the commentary of broadcasters and that many wanted it banned at this tournament and next summer's World Cup in South Africa.

Blatter said soccer's governing body would discuss the matter with the organizers.

"It's a local sound and I don't know how it is possible to stop it," he said on Wednesday. "I always said that when we go to South Africa, it is Africa. It's not western Europe.

"It's noisy, it's energy, rhythm, music, dance, drums. This is Africa. We have to adapt a little."

Vuvuzelas, which have been given away free to fans, are a constant background to Confederations Cup games.

Spain midfielder Xabi Alonso said: "I think they should be banned. They make it very difficult for the players to communicate with each other and to concentrate.

"They are a distraction and do nothing for the atmosphere," he added after his team's 1-0 win over Iraq.

MY POV: Ban them? Hmm ... let's not go that far. They're just a part of the game in South Africa. But ban them, you say ... hmm ... You know what? Let me think on that one ...

As a commenter on South Africa's Times so eloquently put it:

Vuvuzelas were created by South Africans for South Africa’s soccer-loving people.

They are proudly South African and are approved by soccer’s governing body Fifa.

We are not going to stop blowing our vuvuzelas just because we now have the Confederations Cup and the 2010 World Cup. I bet these vuvuzela-haters only watch the English Premier League and some European leagues.

This is Africa, not Europe. If you don’t like vuvuzelas, tough luck.

Buy yourself a vuvuzela and I’ll happily teach you to blow it. Remember: if you can’t beat them, join them.

If You Hate the Vuvuzela, Here's What to Do ...

Here's what to do if you hate the vuvuzela (as so many of us do) ...

Clever marketing, no?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

FREE Tickets to Confederations Cup

Are you in South Africa and in need of tickets to the FIFA Confederations Cup?

Well, you might be in luck! 

FIFA spokesman Nicolas Maingot said a number of complimentary (i.e. FREE) tickets will be handed out to institutions "which have been very supportive of the event." 
MY POV: I've been supportive, no?

Maingot didn't say how many tickets would be handed out for some of the remaining group matches.

The FIFA spokesman said schools and local authorities will be among the recipients of the free tickets.

After a near sell-out in the opening match at Ellis Park in Johannesburg, matches in Rustenburg, Pretoria and Bloemfontein have all been played in stadiums nowhere near capacity.

Meanwhile, South Africa's trade union confederation has said the low attendances are an embarrassment to the country.

"The Congress of South African Trade Unions urgently calls upon South Africans to buy more tickets and attend the Confederations Cup matches in greater numbers," congress spokesman Patrick Craven said in a statement.

"The low turnouts at some matches have been a serious embarrassment to the country and must be improved upon, if we are to demonstrate to the world our passion for soccer, and to remove any doubts about our commitment to the 2010 World Cup tournament."

MY POV: I think people are over blowing the Confederations Cup attendance issue. For starters, these matches are essentially friendlies. Everyone knows the main event comes next summer. 

Do you really think there will be an attendance problem for the World Cup? If you do, I have a bridge to sell you in Brooklyn ... 

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Vuvuzela

Have you been watching the Confederations Cup from South Africa?

So far, so good.

A great game yesterday between African champions Egypt against Brazil, which ended on a controversial penalty called by English referee Howard Webb. 4-3 was the final score for Brazil but the Egyptians have nothing to be ashamed about.

My home country, the United States, was blasted by reigning World Champions Italy, 3-1.

It wasn't even that close, especially when the US went down to 10 men. Back to the drawing board and another tough match against the Brazilians.

The Confederations Cup is going along smoothly. But this isn't what this post is about.

This post is about the vuvuzela, the trumpet brandished by South African fans at the games.

I'm saying right here and right now: It has to go!

I mean this with all respect to South Africa and it's culture. I'm sure the vuvuzela is a huge part of their sporting culture.

Here, take a look at this video. The vuvuzela sounds so nice in it!

The vuvuzela is an important part of South African football culture, as this passage here indicates ...

BRIGHTLY coloured, plastic, a metre long and weighing about 100 grams, the trumpeting vuvuzela is the sound of football in South Africa.

Some say its history goes way back in time - long before football was the country’s most popular sport. The first vuvuzela, it is said, was the kudu horn used to call African villagers to community meetings ...

Made of plastic, they come in a variety of colours - the standard primary red, blue and yellow, with a smattering of green too. But the most popular are those in club colours: black or white for fans of Orlando Pirates, yellow for Kaizer Chiefs, and so on.

And the sound? An elephant, a swarm of angry bees, a fog horn - whatever it is, it is loud. When there's action near the goal mouth, it is something to behold; a sound you are unlikely to forget in a hurry.

The cacophony gets louder and more frantic towards the end of the game ...

"There is an old African saying that goes like this: 'The baboon is killed by a lot of noise'. We make as much noise as we can to confuse our opponents on the field," said Mafani. "Remember this game is not like golf or tennis, where you are actively encouraged to keep quiet. This is a loud game."

In this advertisement for the Confederations Cup, the vuvuzela takes center stage, calling all Africans to make their way to South Africa and enjoy the matches.

Unfortunately, this sound is what we often get from matches ...

I'm here to say: PLEASE STOP!!

The noise is maddening! It's like a swarm of bees, living in my head! The sound doesn't go away. I watch the match for a few hours, then go off to cook dinner and what do I hear? The vuvuzela!

I'm dozing off after a long day and what do I hear? The vuvuzela!!

I wake up and take a shower, drink my morning coffee and start working and what do I hear? THE VUVUZELA!!!

Ok, I'm exaggerating ... but really, what do we do about these instruments?

South Africans, what's your experience with the vuvuzela?

Let us know!

Monday, June 15, 2009

FIFA Unhappy with Empty Stadiums in South Africa

Been watching the 2009 Confederations Cup? Noticed anything?

If you're an astute observer, you've probably noticed the abundance of empty seat at the stadiums in South Africa.

Apparently, so have FIFA. And they're not too happy about this.

FIFA president Sepp Blatter said that unsold tickets for Confederations Cup matches should be given away rather than have empty seats at games after disappointing opening day crowds.

Blatter told a news briefing before the start of the competition's third match between Brazil and Egypt that he had held a meeting with organizers on Monday morning after neither of Sunday's games attracted capacity crowds.

"I had a meeting with the organizing committee this morning, and I think they should have done a little bit more to bring more people to the stadium. They could have given the empty seats at Ellis Park to the boys and girls who had taken part in the opening ceremony. They could have watched the match. There must be some action taken for the rest of the competition. To have half-empty stadiums is not FIFA. They have to do something about it.

"We know that the prices of the tickets cannot be too high, but bring the young people or the poor people into the stadium, and nobody will be offended by that."

The attendance at the match between five-times world champions Brazil and African champions Egypt, which Blatter attended was also disappointingly low with the 40,000-capacity Free State Stadium only about half full when the match kicked off.

Blatter added: "We were not happy with the crowd at the opening match (South Africa v Iraq) or on Sunday evening when the European champions Spain were playing New Zealand in Rustenburg. It is up to the organizers, the local media, to get the message across."

Organizers of this event and next year's World Cup finals have called for a better response from the South African public for the games.

"You can take a horse to water but you can't force it to drink," organizing committee spokesman Rich Mkhondo told a news briefing earlier in the day in Johannesburg.

"We have emphasized many times this is a once in a lifetime opportunity. Our job is to stage the event but it is up to the South African nation to attend it."

Despite the Confederations Cup being the first major footballing event of its kind on the African continent, South Africa played against Iraq to a crowd of under 50,000 in a 61,000-capacity stadium at Ellis Park in Johannesburg.

Attendance at the Royal Bafokeng Stadium in Rustenburg for the match between European champions Spain and New Zealand was 21,649, just over half its 42,000 capacity.

The cheapest ticket prices are 70 rand ($8.69) more than three times the price of ticket for South African league matches.

MY POV: This has to be equally embarrassing for both South Africa and FIFA.

But honestly, who really cares about this cup? It's a glorified exhibition dressed up and sold as important. Everyone knows the World Cup next summer is the main event. Many South Africans are probably saving their pennies for that event.

Why bother with this one?

Sure, there's good football to be seen. But what does winning the Confederations Cup really mean when the World Cup is next summer?

3 Things We've Learned So Far at the 2009 Confederations Cup

The 2009 Confederations Cup kicked off yesterday in South Africa.
We've seen four games. What have we learned so far?

1 - Spain is very, very good.

As in, VERY good. I may be a bit biased here, as I absolutely adore this team. But how can anyone argue with players like Xavi, David Villa, Fernando Torres and Iker Casillas?

They're balanced. They defend well. They score. They have a tight midfield. And they're playing this good without the services of Andres Iniesta.

True, they played a weak New Zealand squad. Still, the world's #1 ranked team looks like a winner, in every facet of the game.

2 - South Africa is not very good.

Bafana Bafana coach Joel Santana said he wanted to be judged on what the team did in competitive matches, not on the results of friendlies.

Yesterday's drab 0-0 encounter with Iraq was a poor showing in many ways. Not only was it a bad game to watch, it also exposed South Africa as a team devoid of width and pace.

Counter that with a choppy playing surface and one can see why they struggled yesterday.

They'll have to play all guns blazing to run at a New Zealand team looking for redemption after their 5-0 rout at the hands of Spain. Let's hope Bafana Bafana does better this time around.

3 - The vuvuzelas are driving me crazy!

The vuvuzela, an air horn, approximately one meter in length, commonly blown by fans at soccer matches in South Africa, makes an interesting sound.

30,000 of them blowing in unison at a football match and it sounds like a bee swarm about to devour you!

Annoying is a word I'd like to use. Maddening is probably closer to what I'm feeling.

Wow, what a sound! And it never ends ... just keeps going and going and going ...

Someone make it stop!

So ... what do you think?

Friday, June 12, 2009

Confederations Cup a Preview of World Cup

The 2010 World Cup is exactly one year away.

This Sunday marks the start of South Africa's dry run - the 2009 Confederations Cup.

Many observers see this tournament, pitting South Africa and world champions Italy against football's six continental winners as a good indication of what to expect come next year.

With South Africa in the middle of their winter season, temperatures are expected to be quite chilly.

Johannesburg suffers its lowest annual temperatures in June and July, averaging 10°C (50 F).

Cape Town is warmer but has its heaviest rains at this time of year.

With night matches set to be cold, it will be up to both the players and the fans to generate some warmth.

Teko Modise, one of South Africa's potential Confederations Cup stars, is sure the local supporters will provide a colorful event.

"We've never seen a tournament like this, which is why everyone in South Africa is excited - everyone's favorite players are coming," explains the Orlando Pirates' play maker.

"The fans will come out in numbers and I imagine that if I wasn't a footballer, I'd be buying my vuvuzela right now and donning my Bafana Bafana jersey."

What's a vuvuzela?

It's nothing more than a simple horn made of plastic, which generates a noise often compared to a swarm of bees when blown by thousands of supporters. MY POV: Is this like the plastic horns blown by fans at Major League Soccer games in the USA? Oh NO ...

Visitors will hear the vuvuzela for themselves when South Africa start the Confederations Cup by taking on Iraq in Johannesburg on Sunday.

They follow it up with Group A clashes against New Zealand and Spain.

Group B, meanwhile, features Brazil, Italy, the United States and African champions Egypt.

One Year to the 2010 World Cup!

One year to go!

The 2010 World Cup in South Africa officially kicks off one year from today - June 12, 2010!

Are you ready??

So with a year to go, who is going to win?

Right now, the obvious choice is FIFA #1 team and reigning European champions Spain.

My personal pick? Either Spain or Brazil.

Some dark horses? How about Russia, Paraguay or Turkey?

An African team that can do some damage? Ivory Coast.

And how will my country's team, the USA do? Second round.

We're almost there!! See you in South Africa ... I hope!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

World Cup Organizers Optimistic One Year Ahead of Cup

We're one year away, folks!

One year until the opening of the world's biggest sporting event - the 2010 World Cup!

I'm excited! And so are the South African organizers, who are confident everything in South Africa will be ready on time.

Danny Jordaan, head of the South African Organizing Committee, even promised visiting fans will be embraced, not mugged, when they show up! I wouldn't mind that ...

"As things stand at the moment, we are very confident," said Jordaan, adding that some manufacturing unrest could still hamper progress. "It is not a straight line. It is a roller coaster."

Still, considering years of criticism that South Africa would not be able to pull off hosting the world's biggest sporting event and after calls for FIFA to come up with Plan B for 2010, Jordaan claimed a partial victory with the opening of the new stadium in Port Elizabeth, the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium.

"It was completed more than 12 months before the World Cup starts," said Jordaan, calling it unprecedented.

For this month's Confederations Cup, a dry run for the World Cup, FIFA is using four World Cup stadiums which needed little upgrading.

Much international concern has centered on security. Jordaan sought to allay fears.

He pointed to the organization of the Twenty20 Indian Premier League tournament at short notice, which ended without any security incidents.

"This country has the capacity to safeguard events like no other country," he said, adding that South Africa had already organized 146 major events without a hitch. MY POV: 146?

Even if stadiums and teams can be easily secured, many fear fans from across the world will run into trouble.

South Africa has among the highest murder and rape rates in the world and has gained an international reputation as a violent country.

The government and local organizers are hoping to alleviate people's fears ahead of next year's Cup.

"We don't want you to have an experience in this country of fear and anxiety," Jordaan said. "You will find people warm and embracing.

"You should not be any more worried than when you walk in Atlanta or Toronto or any other city of the world."

MY POV: Jordaan is certainly optimistic. There's just no way of knowing if what he says is true until next year's Cup. The proof will be in the pudding, as they say.

2010 World Cup Ticket Update

366 days to go ... tomorrow's one year to the 2010 World Cup.
Where has the time gone?!?

Today, a World Cup ticket update from ...

As of today (with four out of 32 teams qualified, in addition to the hosts South Africa) there have been a total of 630,021 tickets in 188 different countries/territories sold.

Nearly half of those total orders have been submitted by South Africans (301,601). Outside of South Africa, supporters from the USA have purchased the largest number of tickets (73,441), followed by the United Kingdom (42,907), Germany (30,880) and Australia (15,038). Reigning champions Italy have so far received 6,063 ticket orders, Brazil 5,777 and from France 5,106 tickets have been so far sold.

MY POV: Kind of interesting that the USA is second behind South Africa. For a nation that many think doesn't care about soccer ... maybe that David Beckham transfer had something to do with it? I kid, I kid!

The second ticketing phase will continue until November 16th. It's on a first-come, first-served basis.

How many of you have got your tickets in hand? If not, what are you waiting for?

I'll see you there! Maybe!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

How Important is the 2010 World Cup to Africa?

How important is the 2010 World Cup in South Africa not only for the host nation but for the entire continent of Africa?

In a word: Important.

While much of the importance is derived from financial concerns, there's also the question of image.

Many international observers have a skewed view of Africa that comes from the news media and reports of war and famine.

Many see this World Cup as a way to change Africa's image around the world. The continent's future reputation and chances of holding more big events -- with the huge investment that they bring -- will hang on its success.

Cup organizers are hoping the event will be a way to change a frustrating image of the continent.

"South Africa will deliver a world-class event that will forever change the perceptions of the international community, and also ensure a lasting legacy for the people of Africa," President Jacob Zuma said when he was inaugurated last month.

Zuma is looking to the Cup to help pull Africa's biggest economy out of recession.

A failure at 2010 - be it due to crime or poor organization - will do the opposite. Many will have their chance to say, 'I told you so.'

Will South Africa be ready?

The signs are getting better even though concerns persist, especially over crime, accommodation and transport.

The South African bid was once dogged by stadium delays, labor unrest, bureaucratic and political disputes and an obsession in the local media that the sport's governing body FIFA had a "plan B" to move it elsewhere.

Both FIFA chief Sepp Blatter and Franz Beckenbauer, chairman of the 2006 Germany World Cup organizing committee, publicly criticized the effort.

More recently, officials have been lining up to praise the preparations. "I am sure the World Cup in South Africa is going to be a big, big success," Blatter said last week.

FIFA Secretary-General Jerome Valcke says nine of the 10 stadiums , half of them new, will be ready by December and the last, in Cape Town, will be delivered in February.

FIFA estimates at least 450,000 foreign fans would come for the tournament. Ticket sales, which are released on a staggered basis, are already heavily oversubscribed with at least 28 of the 64 matches sold out. Demand is expected to increase when fans know which teams have qualified, by November.

While optimism is increasing, there is continued nervousness about several potential problems that could spoil the party, with South Africa's crime problem at the forefront.

About 50 people are murdered every day, more than in the United States, which has six times the population. Crime makes South Africa one of the most dangerous countries outside a war zone.

Jordaan has dismissed alarmist warnings, pointing to South Africa's highly successful organization of many international events, including a cricket and rugby World Cup.

Police plan to saturate danger areas with more than 40,000 officers and high-tech security including unmanned drones, but some South Africans worry this will mean leaving everybody else exposed while fans will be vulnerable if they wander out of guarded areas round stadiums, hotels and tourist routes.

There are also fears impoverished local supporters, faced with even the cheapest ever World Cup tickets, at $20, being almost ten times the cost of a domestic premier league match, will either not turn up or sell them to foreign fans.

"The one thing we want it to be is a South African and African World Cup. We don't want it to be European, or South American or Asian," said former England footballer Terry Paine, now a popular commentator on South Africa's Supersport channel.

Whatever the problems, the World Cup has one big plus for South Africa. A construction boom in road, rail and stadium building is a rare bright spot in an economy entering its first recession for 17 years and fanatical foreign fans are thought unlikely to be put off by the global crisis.

FIFA, which makes most of its money from the World Cup, is expected to smash all records for revenue, topped by huge television rights deals, especially in the U.S.

The sports market website Sportcal ( estimates FIFA has already made $3.4 billion in commercial revenue, nearly 50 percent higher than the 2006 World Cup.

(Thanks to Barry Moody and Reuters for a bulk of the numbers and reporting in this post.)

MY POV: There would be nothing sadder than to see a major crime wave occur during the World Cup. Africa needs this Cup to be a success. For self-esteem, for future revenue, for pride.

I cross my fingers. But I admit to having a bad feeling about some of this.

50 murders/day? And now we're throwing more than half a million foreign tourists - with money - into the mix? It'll be pick pocket heaven.

And don't even get me started on the hooligan aspect of it all. Could you imagine the catastrophe that would occur if a group of drunken fans decide to pick a fight with a local gang?

Africa needed this Cup. It needed it back in '06 but that's another story.

In all honesty, Africa needs this Cup to be a success for future stability. It needs to put it's best foot forward and show the world it isn't all about civil wars and famine.

And I am positive it will do this.

I just hope some bad seeds don't try to screw it up.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Latest Round Up of African World Cup Qualifying

We inch closer and closer to finding out which countries will represent the African continent in the first World Cup on African soil.

This weekend shed some light on which countries will make it - and which won't.

For a complete run down of the group standings, please click here.
The winners of each group earn an automatic place in the 2010 World Cup.

Group A

Surprising Gabon head the group with 6 points, 3 ahead of Togo and 5 ahead of Morocco and Cameroon.

Gabon easily handled 10-man Togo, 3-0 this weekend.

Togo were a goal down after just 11 minutes with Bruno Ecuele scoring and the Hawks were a man down after 40 minutes following the dismissal of Thomas Dossevi.

Roguy Meye and Moise Brou Apanga scored in the second half to complete a comfortable win for Gabon.

In the group's other game, Cameroon could only draw 0-0 against Morocco on Sunday.

Cameroon's Indomitable Lions have failed to score so far in the second phase of qualifying.

The next matches take place in two weeks time when Morocco host Togo and Cameroon travel to Gabon.

Group B

Tunisia defeated Mozambique 2-0 in their Group B encounter.

Lens defender Alaeddine Yahia scored from the penalty spot after 21 minutes.

Oussama Darragi, from Tunisian champions Esperance, was then on target for the Carthage Eagles with their second goal in injury time at the end of the match.

Victor Obinna Nsofor scored a brace as Nigeria beat Kenya 3-0 in Abuja.

Ikechukwu Uche took advantage of a defensive slip to open the scoring for the Super Eagles in only the second minute of the game.

Kenya had several chances to get into the game, but failed to convert any of them.

Obinna Nsofor scored twice in the second half to ensure the Super Eagles wrapped up a comfortable home victory.

Tunisia remain top of the group with six points, Nigeria are second with four.

Mozambique stay in third with a point, Kenya are last and are yet to earn any points.

Tunisia go head-to-head with Nigeria in two weeks time, while Mozambique travel to Kenya.

Group C

Zambia defeated visitors Rwanda 1-0.

The victory takes Zambia to four points, after they drew 1-1 with Egypt in the opening game of the final round of qualifiers.

Rwanda remain on just a single point from their two games.

Algeria shocked their North African rivals and African champions Egypt 3-1 triumph on Sunday.

Karim Matmour opened the scoring for the hosts in the 60th minute.

Goals from Abdelkader Ghezzal and Rafik Djebbour soon followed as the Desert Foxes opened a 3-0 lead over the six-times African champions.

Mohammed Aboutraika clawed one back from the visitors with three minutes to go, but it was too little, too late.

Algeria go top of the table with four points ahead of Zambia.

Egypt lie bottom, below Rwanda, with a solitary point.

The Pharoahs will hope to restore a semblance of hope to their 2010 World Cup campaign when they host Rwanda in two weeks.

Algeria meanwhile travel to Zambia.

Group D

Benin narrowly edged Sudan, 1-0.

In the group's other tie, Ghana secured a 2-0 away victory over Mali.

Kwadwo Asamoah and Matthew Amoah were scorers of the two second half goals.

The Black Stars go back on top of Group D with six points, while Benin lie in second place with three points.

Sudan and Mali have one point each.

Next up for group leaders Ghana is a trip to Sudan, while Mali host Benin.

Group E

Burkina Faso kept their perfect record in this round of qualifying with a 1-0 over hosts Malawi.

Moumouni Dagano, who plays in Qatar, grabbed the only goal of the game in the 70th minute with a well-taken close-range volley past goalkeeper Swadik Sanudi.

It was Dagano's 10th goal in the World Cup campaign so far making him the top scorer in Africa for the 2010 qualifiers.

Ivory Coast also made it two wins out of two when they beat Guinea 2-1.

Bakary Kone opened the scoring for the Elephants on the stroke of half time.

Sambegou Bangoura struck an equalizer for the home side halfway through the second half.

But Romaric scored what proved to be the winner seven minutes later and Ivory Coast top Group E with six points on goal difference.

Burkina Faso lie in second and the group's top two teams will face each other in Ouagadougou in two weeks.

Guinea and Malawi prop up the group.

Both are yet to win a point.

That could change when Malawi travels to Conakry for the next round of matches.

MY POV: Should be a fun weekend of action in two weeks. We'll know a lot more after that round of action.

First Stadium Built for 2010 Cup Opens

We're getting closer. Just 367 days away ...

And today, the first stadium built exclusively for the World Cup opened. The Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth, South Africa is now open for business, a year ahead of the 2010 World Cup.

The 48,000-seat stadium will host eight games at the World Cup, including a quarter final and the third/fourth place play-off.

"For us today's first opening of a newly-built 2010 FIFA World Cup stadium is a huge boost. It demonstrates the capacity of SA's (South Africa) construction industry and our commitment to deliver on all our 2010 FIFA World Cup promises," said chief executive of the organizing committee Danny Jordaan.

The 2010 curtain-raiser Confederations Cup starts next Sunday at four refurbished stadiums in Johannesburg, Pretoria, Bloemfontein and Rustenburg.

Jordaan added that the five additional new stadiums that will also be used in the World Cup were "shaping up nicely" to be ready ahead of 2010.

MY POV: I'm happy to hear SA's getting the stadiums operational a full year before the Cup. It's an important first step and shows the world how serious and committed South Africa is to being ready for the first African World Cup.