Portugal's Nani exits injury-plagued WC
Portuguese winger Nani became the latest big name to drop out of the World Cup today, but there was no dampening the enthusiasm of fans pouring in and readying TV sets around the world.sports Updated: Jun 09, 2010 18:11 IST
Portuguese winger Nani became the latest big name to drop out of the World Cup today, but there was no dampening the enthusiasm of fans pouring in and readying TV sets around the world.
"I'm in Africa, I can't believe it. I'm just so sorry we're going to spoil their party on Friday!" said a laughing Victor Fernandez, coming off a long-haul flight with the green flag of Mexico who play hosts South Africa in Friday's opener.
Like many of the more than 300,000 foreign fans expected for the tournament, Fernandez's first purchase was a "vuvuzela", the ubiquitous trumpet blown by locals and variously likened to the noise made by a herd of elephants or swarm of bees. Fans, though, are aghast at an ever-growing injury list that is threatening to rob the tournament of some glamour on the pitch despite the exotic African backdrop.
In a huge blow to Portugal's hopes of a first World Cup triumph, Nani was ruled out with a shoulder injury he picked up in training at home before flying to South Africa.
Other crowd-pullers like England's David Beckham, Germany's Michael Ballack and Ghana's Michael Essien pulled out long ago due to injuries. And Ivory Coast's Didier Drogba and the Netherlands' Arjen Robben are fighting not to join them.
African Footballer of the Year, Drogba, needs surgery on a fractured arm, but it is unclear if the striker will then be able to play for Ivory Coast, arguably the continent's best hope but heavily reliant on their talisman.
Dutch winger Robben has hurt a hamstring but is hoping to join team-mates later in the tournament to help a nation that has never won the Cup despite its famously skilful teams.
Italian midfielder Andrea Pirlo, Australian winger Harry Kewell, Chilean striker Humberto Suazo, and South Korean forward Lee Dong-guk are others struggling to get fit.
Spain and Brazil are favourites for the world's most widely-watched sporting tournament, which has never witnessed a winner outside Europe or South America.
Millions of Africans, though, are praying one of their six teams can break that jinx in South Africa, or at least go further than Cameroon and Senegal's quarter-final showings in 1990 and 2002.
Injuries and tough groups, however, mean there is a real risk that all the Africans may fall at the first round hurdle. South Africa's "Bafana Bafana" (The Boys) are the lowest-ranked African team at the tournament, but have fanatical ranks of vuvuzela-blowing locals -- and a recent unbeaten run of 12 games -- to lift them.
"As it gets nearer to kickoff, the nerves are beginning," admitted South Africa striker Bernard Parker. Their opening game will take place in front of 90,000 people, and millions worldwide, in the Soccer City stadium in Johannesburg, which resembles a calabash, or an African pot.
Africa's most famous son Nelson Mandela held his first rally at Soccer City in 1990 after 27 years in jail and the hosts hope the tournament will showcase the new country he helped shape after decades of apartheid and foreign isolation.
The hosts inaugurated Africa's first high speed urban train in Johannesburg today, just in time to help fans bypass the city's notorious traffic jams.
While infrastructure preparations by the hosts have broadly gone smoothly, a stampede inuring 15 people at a Nigeria-North Korea friendly on Sunday was a reminder of risks in a continent where football is often chaotically run.
In other pre-tournament incidents, New Zealand cut short a training session due to smoke from a nearby poor township, and Australia moved from a pitch their coach described as hopeless.
South Africa is confident, though, that years of spending and preparation will bear fruit and help banish the usual stereotypes of poverty and hunger associated with Africa. "South Africa has come alive and will never be the same again after this World Cup," President Jacob Zuma said.