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The World Cup begins

sports Updated: Jun 11, 2010 10:36 IST
Dhiman Sarkar
Dhiman Sarkar
Hindustan Times
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Ke Nako. In Sotho, one of the 11 recognised South African languages, this means ‘It is time.’

The biggest sporting extravaganza — the month-long football World Cup — starts in South Africa on Friday. It’ll be a first for Africa, a continent the Olympics have feared to tread.

And with close to half a million visitors expected for the games, this will be the biggest, noisiest and most colourful party South Africa’s ever hosted — even by the rainbow nation’s own standards.

<b1>On the streets, people are blowing their vuvuzelas — plastic horns now symbolic of the World Cup. Flags are being sold, spit and polish being applied to Soccer City, where the hosts meet Mexico in Friday’s opener. Nelson Mandela will be in attendance, his grandson Mandla said, unless it’s too cold.

For the next four weeks, South Africa will hope the world talks about Messi, Kaka and Ronaldo rather than crime, unemployment and AIDS.

Messages welcoming visitors alternate with warnings to beware of illegal activity and requests to help the vulnerable on FM radio stations.

Will this be a winter of discontent for Diego Maradona or will he join Franz Beckenbauer and Mario Zagallo in an elite club, that of World Cup winners as captain and coach? Or will Dunga do that?

Will England end 44 years of “hurt” under an Italian coach? Will Fabio Cannavaro be the first captain to lift the gold statuette that travels in a Luis Vuitton case twice in succession? Will an African team go beyond the quarter-finals?

The answers will come gradually from 10 venues and 64 matches. By July 11, we will have them all.

South Africa has invested 33 billion rand (about Rs. 20,000 crore) in World Cup-related infrastructure, according to the local media. In what should be familiar to Delhiites, albeit on a far bigger scale, new stadia have been built, old ones refurbished and the transport system that includes a high-speed train and a new bus system upgraded for 19 billion rand (about Rs. 11,500 crore).

According to FIFA, the world’s apex football body, the World Cup will add 55.7 billion rand (about Rs 33,800 crore) to South Africa’s economy between 2006 and 2010.

“It will be a uniting factor for the nation,” said Nelson Mandela’s grandson Mandla, who is also the chief of the Mvezo village where the anti-apartheid guru was born.

“South Africa will benefit but the effects of this World Cup will be felt by all of Africa,” said Patrick Vieira, a World Cup and European championship winner with France, on Thursday morning.

For South Africa, therefore, this isn’t just about football. They are sure they won’t come up short and will be gracious hosts.

Even India — where, for three years and 11 months in between each World Cup finals, cricket is an intense, all-consuming religion — will get into football mode for the next four weeks. Like 172 other countries who didn’t qualify, we will, as a former England coach said in a different context, “sit back with a beer and enjoy”.

It really is time.