“This is Africa”, repeated the Zulu witchdoctor at the opening ceremony of the World Cup. The atmosphere at this WC is unique in many ways. It is unlike the one I played in Italy in 1990,or all the other ones I attended as a spectator or commentator.
There is a unique energy and excitement in the air, as Africans celebrate their coming of age. This WC is not just about football or sports, it's about young African boys clutching their gold tickets for the opening game as if it was dearer than gold.
It's about fans from all over Africa painting their faces and bodies in their team colours. It's about all of Africa pouring into the streets of Accra, Nairobi, Lagos, Abidjan, Maputo, Dakar and all the other African capitals to witness the opening of an event that celebrates the entire continent.
The Cup opened fittingly with a splendid goal from the young, Siphiwe Tshabalala, born in Phiri, in the heart of Soweto. Despite all the warnings that stadiums would not be ready or that there would be rampant crime, the World Cup has opened with splendid fanfare, colour and life. Crime is as prevalent in the streets of New York, Rio, or even Amsterdam.
The vibes here are incredible with happy, excited people, enjoying the biggest party of the century. The pros greatly outweigh the cons here. As I comment on the games for ESPN in Senton, Johannesburg, I can only marvel at how this country has been transformed by its people and its 90-year-old leader Nelson Mandela.
In 1987, I dedicated the Golden Ball trophy I won as the footballer of the year to Mandela, who was serving a 25-year sentence in Robben Island. At the time few people in Italy, where I was playing, had even heard of him.
In 1988, I even sang an anti-apartheid song in a shaky voice, called, “South Africa” with a reggae band called Revelation Time. Many years later, when I came to South Africa to meet Mandela, he said to me, “Ruud, now I have a lot of friends, but when I was inside, you were one of the few!”
Over the next 23 years, I often visited the country and met the great man, celebrating the birth of a new nation. It was another senseless tragedy that he had to lose his beloved granddaughter, 13-year-old Zenami on the very eve of the opening ceremony, in a crash.
But this is Africa, where spectators sing and play their vuvuzelas throughout the game, praying to God that their team wins. I hope all of India understands and enjoys the incredible atmosphere of this World Cup. Of the top four teams that have played so far, Germany have put on a sterling display versus Australia, winning 4-0 — and in style.