Saturday, 12 June 2010

Day 1

It's finally here - as I'm sure every blog post and article written about today will start. The 2010 World Cup begins today and so does my attempt to keep a daily record of my thoughts about the tournament. It's certainly felt like a long wait - one my girlfriend doesn't quite appreciate in terms of understanding my giddiness and general child-like restlessness.

As she's a big music fan, I use an analogy to help: imagine if there was only one big music festival, and it happened every four years - and went on for a month. The festival would have the best bands from all over the world and everyone would be going. It would be especially exciting because for most of the previous four years you'd only been able to watch bands from your own country, save for glimpses of others here and there. Wouldn't it be the most exciting musical event ever? And even if you didn't like all the bands or know much about them, the enthusiasm of their entire nation would be so infectious that you'd be silly not to at least check them out.

Does it work? I'm not sure - describing the World Cup as the Glastonbury of football times ten doesn't even begin to do it justice, but can you imagine waiting four years for anything else? The Olympics? Hardly.

Something that does, however, is this year's opening ceremony. A riotous explosion of colour in Soccer City's massive calabash sees Desmond Tutu jigging around covered head to toe in Bafana Bafana colours; a giant puppet dung beetle appears and rolls a giant version of Adidas' controversial Jabulani ball around the stadium; R. Kelly bewilderingly appears to sing some sort of song backed with a traditional choir - it's all quite fun, really. The only sad note is that Nelson Mandela is unable to attend after the death of his 13-year-old great-granddaughter on Thursday night; in a car crash on the way home from the concert in Soweto which officially opened the tournament.

After the opening ceremony comes the football, of course, and while work prohibits me from watching South Africa take on Mexico in the opening game - I am able to keep up with it via BBC live text and, funnily, Twitter - which manages in its own way to report events before anyone else; albeit in the sarcastic way Back of the Net News does or in more cryptic ways that gently hit I should switch tab and go back to the live text to see what's happened.

What does happen, in the event, is that the first half finishes 0-0 with Mexico clearly dominating proceedings, before the second half opens to a great deal more Bafana Bafana industry - culminating in a long through ball finding the feet of Tshabalala, who opens the tournament's scoring with an absolute rocket from his left foot into the top right corner of Mexico's goal. I didn't see it happen live - but the online consensus seemed to be that the already-cacophonous vuvuzelas went into overtime. I'd imagine we'll see a few people passing out from blowing those sodding things by the end of the tournament.

Mexico equalise in the 79th minute through Rafael Marquez, who finds himself completely unmarked at the far post from a free kick; and it's absolutely no more than Mexico deserve from the game. South Africa narrowly miss a chance to win it late on - but alas the shot hits the post and World Cup 2010's opening game is a draw, albeit an entertaining one.

The first game I do manage to watch live, however, is Uruguay vs France - the 7.30pm kick off. After watching the BBC's elegant and tasteful buildup coverage, getting us in the mood perfectly, the match kicks off, immediately suggesting how cagey and negative it will prove to be. Uruguay seem to show no desire to get forward - possibly seeing this as their toughest fixture - and park the metaphorical bus at the back.

France, by turn, fanny around up front and display the frustrating, Arsenal-style lack of decision in the final third of the pitch that makes watching good players falter so infuriating. Even after Uruguay lose a man to a second yellow card, France simply refuse to take the game from them. It ends 0-0, and hopefully we've got the stinker of the group stage out of the way early.

So that's it - we're underway. It's been fun to get in the mood for the tournament, despite the lack of truly scintillating football, but there's definitely promise and, well, England kick off tomorrow don't they? Can't wait.

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