10 February 2010
It is a climax experienced quadrennially and enjoyed incomparably. It is one that only the Fifa World Cup™ can deliver. With the competition’s 19th instalment only 120 days away, anticipation is building among football enthusiasts – including some of the legends of the game.
“Although some critical voices continue to make themselves heard, I have long been convinced that this will be a successful World Cup”, Fifa president Sepp Blatter said at the latest Fifa Football Committee meeting in Zurich on Monday.
A number of footballing legends also expressed their excitement to Fifa.com.
“The anticipation is huge,” said German great Franz Beckenbauer. “It’s been this way since the Final Draw in December, when we found out who would be playing who. It will be an African World Cup, and I’m really looking forward to it, because it’s going to be very colourful and very entertaining.”
Cameroonian great Roger Milla revealed his joy that Africa was being given the opportunity to play host to the tournament. “In Africa, we are so happy to have received this World Cup – we could not believe we would get it,” he said.
Milla has obvious reason to be thrilled that a country from his home continent will host the Fifa World Cup for the first time, but a number of non-Africans echoed his delight.
“It was the right decision to finally have an African country hosting this tournament,” said Sir Bobby Charlton, who inspired England to the world crown in 1966. “I’m sure that this Fifa World Cup will be a major success. I’ve been to South Africa a lot of times, and people will enjoy it down there.
“I’m extremely happy that I will go to this year’s World Cup,” Charlton added. “As always, I hope that England will do well.”
Mexican great Hugo Sanchez agreed: “I’m very happy for Africa. The continent had to wait so many years for this occasion. To have South Africa hosting the 2010 Fifa World Cup is not only very good for football, but also for the whole African continent.”
Naturally, Pele, who long pushed for an African nation to be granted the right to host the Fifa World Cup, is relishing the extravaganza. “Everybody knows that I’m very confident and happy because I was the one who was fighting for the World Cup to be in Africa,” he said. “They deserve it.”
So, how far can the African teams go at this year’s World Cup? “I’m confident that an African team can reach the semi-finals,” said Beckenbauer. “Ghana are strong, Cote d’Ivoire are strong, and the South Africans have home advantage.”
Pele, who boldly – though wrongly – predicted that an African team would win the World Cup by the turn of the century, also foresees sides from the home continent causing upsets.
“Some years ago, I talked about the improvement of the African teams. Unfortunately, they showed their improvement in the Olympics against Brazil, when they beat us!” Pele said, referring to Nigeria’s elimination of a star-studded Brazil en route to gold at Atlanta 1996.
“It’ difficult to say what will happen this year, but maybe we will see a surprise. The African teams have tough groups, but if they qualify for the knockout stage, there’ll certainly be a surprise.”
And while Pele would like to the Africans excel, he naturally wants Brazil to emerge triumphant. “I’m personally very sorry that the World Cup is this year, in 2010, because 10 is my lucky number and I wish I could play!” he joked. “But as I’m not going to play, I hope that Brazil will go all the way and that we will see an exciting final.”