Things have gone backwards since then. With one round of the group matches left to go in the first ever African World Cup, it remains a distinct possibility no African side will make it through to the last 16. South Africa, Ivory Coast and Nigeria are almost certainly out already. Algeria has some hope in the group of sleep but will probably lose to USA. That leaves Ghana who top their group currently ahead of Germany and Serbia. However their lacklustre performance against a poor ten man Australian side suggests they will probably lose to Germany and allow Serbia to grab the other place with a win or draw against Australia. The one African innovation in this World Cup is not the football but the vuvuzela which has split sporting fans. Some love it for its ability to get the fans involved but more hate it for its incessant one-pitched drone which drowns out every other noise in the stadium. Problems with the vuvuzela were identified at the 2009 Confederation Cup which acts as a world cup dress rehearsal. FIFA boss Sepp Blatter didn’t want to ban the vuvuzela saying “we should not try to Europeanise an African World Cup.”As with most things Blatter, this was hypocritical bullshit. It had nothing to do with anti-colonialism and everything to do with office politics. There is no long history of the vuvuzela’s use in Africa or elsewhere. The plastic trumpet first emerged in Mexico in the 1970s and was seen at the Argentina 1978 World Cup. They didn’t become popular in South Africa until 20 years later. With its high sound level and closeness to the frequency of human speech, Blatter probably hates them as much as anyone not playing them. But the FIFA president was not prepared to risk African votes deserting him during the 2011 presidential election.While Blatter is buying votes, the tournament is gathering pace. The first week saw a succession of negative games and 1-0 scorelines. Desperately poor and uneven refereeing didn’t help. The code’s refusal to use technology to help the refs leaves it looking a laughing stock compared to the range of facilities available to rugby, cricket and tennis officials.
This is especially ludicrous now referees and assistants are wired up. It would not take long to talk to a fourth or fifth official in the stands with access to replays, goal-line incidents and offside decisions. The oft-quoted excuse it would “interrupt the flow of the game” beggars belief especially when considering how many interruptions exist as players fall over under the slightest provocation.
A European team has never won the competition outside its home continent and this statistic is likely to continue in South Africa. Germany looked strong against Australia only to fold against Serbia. Meanwhile Italy, France and England all lack a cutting edge. Favourites Spain inexplicably lost to Switzerland and may find it impossible to recover. The Dutch look the best of the Europeans so far but don’t have the aura of trophy winners.
The same cannot be said of Brazil and Argentina. Both sides have aura in abundance and won their games easily. With the right amount of fortune they should end up playing each other in the first all-South American final since 1950 (or 1930 if you are being picky and say there was no actual final in 1950) and the first ever final between these two old foes. It would be hilarious to watch Diego Maradona pick up another world cup trophy, despite all his flaws and madness. I suspect Brazil have too much guile to make that happen, but Argentina and its on-field genius Lionel Messi have my heart as we head into the next few fascinating weeks.