20 November 2009
The 2010 Fifa World Cup™ began in earnest over two years ago in Samoa, 13 times zones and more than 15 000 kilometres from the 2010 final venue at Soccer City in Johannesburg.
The tiny town of Apia kick-started the monumental qualifying process that came full circle on Wednesday night with the final, down-to-the-wire qualifying clashes between France and Ireland, Bosnia and Portugal, Ukraine and Greece, Slovenia and Russia, Uruguay and Costa Rica and, of course, bitter rivals Algeria and Egypt.
There have been plenty of ups and downs – on and off the field – including stampedes in Monrovia and Abidjan which left scores of spectators dead.
But the very good news for 2010 hosts South Africa is that next year’s edition of the global showpiece of international soccer will see virtually all the planet’s heavyweights competing. These include five-time champions Brazil, Argentina (by a whisker), Germany, England, Italy and France (courtesy of Thierry Henry’s blatant double hand-ball).
The reality is that all seven previous World Cup winners and 18 of the world’s top 21 teams will line up for battle next year. Only three of the 32 contestants (New Zealand, North Korea and hosts South Africa) are not among the world’s top 50.
The pedigree of these nations raises the quality of the tournament and guarantees that they will be accompanied by hoards of free-spending supporters.
There is a great deal of interest in the African contingent, and with Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana and Nigeria all securing their places, the chances of a “home” country reaching the final of the tournament have never been better.
The host nation, now languishing in 85th place in the world rankings, has been written off, but the same applied to 2002 co-hosts South Korea, who made it to the semi-finals thanks to some impressive coaching and a surge of local support.
The next key 2010 event is the Final Draw in Cape Town on December 4. The ceremony, which will be viewed by an estimated 700-million television viewers in 200 countries, will determine which countries play where, signalling the start of the final preparations for the first World Cup on African soil.
Urquhart is a former Fifa World Cup media officer and the current editor of Project 2010