As South Africans we must feel that there will never again be a better soccer world cup than what was experienced in 2010 – right? Well … no.
In my opinion I would have to disagree, Brazil 2014 has been the best world cup I’ve witnessed since I was born in the year Diego Maradona worked his magic in Mexico. Don’t get me wrong, hands down the whole ‘feel it, it is here’ vibe, the atmosphere, the fan parks, stadiums, tourists and the general buzz was amazing! The actual soccer however, when you start talking about the drama associated with the beautiful game, as a spectacle 2010 just did not compare to what we are being treated to in Brazil this year. Have a glance at some of the stats – the only unbeaten team was New Zealand, Africa got robbed out of a semi and we’ve already surpassed the 2010 goal tally mid way through the group stages of Brazils round of 16!
Ok so what has Bafana Bafana done to make this world cup so great for me? In 2010 there was this air of optimism around the performance of the host nation. Could Bafana do what so many have done before and defy the rankings in pursuit of world cup progression? The stage was set – a full house at Soccer City, the world watching as Bafana take the lead with a brilliant goal from outside the box followed by our very own trademark celebration! The country erupted with joy as all the optimism became reality, this was it, we doing this, I could feel it, it was here! Ladies and gentlemen that was the best time of the entire world cup – the 24 minute lead Bafana had on Mexico. We thought it was the beginning when in fact we had just climaxed 55 minutes into the month long tournament. After the group stages could I truly pledge my allegiance to another team? Could I honestly be neutral and enjoy the soccer? I tried but to no avail, the disappointment set the tone.
Fast forward 4 years, Bafana Bafana have died a slow death in the ICU of FIFA world cup qualifiers, giving us sufficient time to heal and come to grips with the fact that our entrusted “Dr Gordon Egesund” had failed us. I never actually expected Bafana to qualify based on their performances leading up to qualification which made letting go so much easier. So what happens now? The focus of this world cup is not on one team anymore, the focus is on every team. Instead of being fed countless articles on the daily thoughts of a single manager or the updates on Siphiwe Tshabalala’s toe injury, we are getting broad based insights into the dynamics of all teams and players holistically. During this world cup I could approach every game as a neutral, I choose a team that I want to win without any preservation then move on to the next. I have been rewarded with goals, drama and associations with teams I would never have cared about if my focus was elsewhere. I’m not sure if this brings my patriotism into question but I would like to thank Bafana Bafana for not being in this world cup for you have given me the opportunity to admire this beautiful game as ‘pure neutral’.