As I sit patiently waiting for 10 AM Friday morning to arrive, all my excitement and hope for the US to do well is tempered somewhat by the likelihood that this Cup will lot live up to expectations of previous World Cups. Call it the curse of South Africa or whatever, this World Cup is setting up to be a disappointment if anything other than a favorite (or favourite if you prefer) wins on July 11.
In 2006 the fans got what they wanted and the Germans threw a world class party. Maybe I’m biased because I was there, on my honeymoon, watching along with thousands of fellow football fans, proudly wearing our nation’s colors, and cheering on our home team. Maybe my opinion is slanted, but in the end, Germany gave the fans a World Cup with blood and headbutts, overachieving “down-under” dogs, a successful host performance, and a clash of titans in the final, all to crown a historically successful country who’s home was dealing with scandals at every turn.
Unfortunately, the way things have started, South Africa will likely not be so lucky.
From the moment South Africa was awarded the 2010 World Cup, the majority of the world thought there was no way a developing country like South Africa would be able to accomplish the laundry list of tasks it needed to complete in order to be ready for the Cup. Once that uneasiness set in, someone should have pulled the plug. We should have trusted our gut instinct. We could have apologized to South Africa and said, you’ll thank us later, but we’re pulling the plug.
But we didn’t, and here we are, just days away. And what will we get? Well, for one, we know what we won’t get. We won’t get to see a full strength England side take on the US, German, or Argentina. We won’t get to see whether Ballack can lead Germany with heightened expectations following a successful qualifying campaign. We won’t get see the Group of Death at it’s full potential with the likes of Nani and Drogba missing from Portugal and the Ivory Coast’s starting eleven.
So, what will we get. If we look at South Africa and consider some history, we can probably get an idea of what we will see.
First, South Africa’s elevation changes are going to make things interesting from the very start. Consider that a team could play their first game (or have a base camp) at sea level, then make the trip up to Johannesburg to play at 5,751 ft. Some people disregard it, and others say that both teams have to play at it, but in the end, the combination of the colder, thinner air is going to speed up the fatigue factor–Let’s not forget that many of these players have come off of extremely long seasons. Fatigue means the players will think just a little bit slower, increasing the frequency of poor passing while also leading to reckless challenges. It’ll also mean that we’ll likely see more frequent stoppages due to “injuries.” However, the fatigue won’t only affect the 22 players on the field. I suspect we’ll see the referees make (or miss) game changing calls late in the games. All of this will lead to more cards, free kicks, and penalty kicks–changing the outcome and dynamic of the game, and perhaps leading to a greater number of upsets.
Second, I don’t care what FIFA says about their lack of responsibility in the recent stampede at the Nigeria and North Korea, the stampede is a sign of these to come. The event by itself is a symptom of a culture of football fanaticism in Africa and insufficient experience for this size of crowd control. I suspect we will see another stampede occur under FIFA’s watch this time and there will likely be serious injuries. I mean, Nigeria, I can almost understand the interest, but North Korea? Unless the stampede was the North Koreans trying to defect, there’s no reason to have a stampede with either of these countries. Because it wasn’t the paying fans that were the concern, makes me wonder whether FIFA’s security has really considered stampedes as a threat. What will it be like if England has to face Argentina, or when Brazil takes on Portugal or the Ivory Coast, all teams with players who jerseys are worn on the streets across the globe?
Third, if overall project management skills have led to a numerous number of infrastructure improvements failing to complete on time, I wouldn’t be surprised if we see a match or two delayed to allow the teams competing or FIFA officials to arrive. Can you imagine if this were to happen during the third week’s action, when a group is suppose to play their games simultaneously? Now, I’m sure both games will be delayed until all teams are ready, but when will some cry foul, that this puts one team at a disadvantage?
So, why does all this drama mean the World Cup will be a disappointment? Well, hopefully it doesn’t. But, if for some reason, the events listed above take place, it will likely start to leave a bad taste in your mouth. And if one of the “contenders” (i.e., non favorites) or even the US, were to win the Cup, the 2010 World Cup will be considered a disappointment and the winner’s triumph will be minimized by the disappointed public. Because, in the end, while everyone likes the underdog, what the majority of the world wants to see is the best players in the world score spectacular goals and make us love them more.
What do you think? Would you be disappointed if the final was like EURO 2004 when Greece bored Portugal (and the viewing public) asleep with a stingy defense? Or do the teams that compete in the final even have an impact on the entertainment because it’s the World Cup? If the US won the World Cup, would you care if our Nation’s naysayers and soccer detractors minimized the accomplishment because of high-profile absentees in South Africa’s tournament?