South Africa, 2010
At the turn of the century it was decided that the 2010 World Cup would be the first hosted in Africa, with bids placed by Egypt, Morocco, South Africa and a joint-bid from Tunisia and Libya. With FIFA deciding to ban co-hosted bids, the North African joint-bid was ruled out immediately, and eventually a voteless Egypt and perennial bridesmaids Morocco would lose out to South Africa, by far the best equipped country to host the tournament. The award of these hosting rights would come under intense scrutiny five years later, as charges of bribery and corruption were levelled at FIFA, particularly in the wake of Russia and Qatar’s winning bids for 2018 and 2022. It was reported that the team behind South Africa’s hosting bid had paid FIFA Vice-President Jack Warner $10m to secure the winning votes, and Chuck Blazer later emerged as a whistleblower on those allegations, confirming he received money in exchange for his vote in the bidding process. Shortly after, the House of FIFA fell, with Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini both receiving hefty bans for their part in the scandal, though that was scant consolation to Morocco, who had been cheated out of the right to host. Pre-tournament fears surrounding crime and security in some of South Africa’s poorest areas were never realised, with much of the television coverage sensitive to the economic disparity in the country, providing eye-opening vignettes of day-to-day life in the likes of Bloemfontein and Johannesburg. As an event, the tournament was a success, with South Africa’s hosting impeccable and their guests entering into the spirit of the occasion, embracing the country’s culture whilst bringing their own unique vibes. The vuvuzelas never really caught on, though.
The only newcomers in 2010 were Slovakia, making their first appearance as an independent nation, though there were long-awaited returns for North Korea, Honduras, New Zealand and Algeria. The Algerians had been forced to qualify the hard way, taking on fierce rivals Egypt in a play-off that saw fans from both sides attacking the team buses and each other, though initial predictions of ‘widespread rioting’ were wide of the mark. There was also controversy in the UEFA play-offs as, with the tie delicately poised in extra-time, Thierry Henry clearly handled the ball in the build up to France’s winning goal, leaving Ireland incandescent. FIFA would eventually placate the FAI with a compensation fee, presumably lifted from the money they’d earned by awarded South Africa the World Cup.
Going into the Group Stages, there were fears that South Africa could end the tournament as the worst hosts in World Cup history – none had been knocked out in the group stage before – and while they failed to progress through the tournament, France and Raymond Domenech took the fall by providing a laughable display devoid of unity or desire. Having fallen out with Nicolas Anelka at half-time against Mexico, the manager with caterpillar eyebrows then proceeded to alienate half of his squad, and a remarkable defeat to South Africa saw the 2006 finalists exit the competition having earned one point and scored one goal. That victory over France was one of only a couple of highlights for the hosts, the first being Siphiwe Tshabalala’s stunning goal in the opening game against Mexico, which prompted the immortal ‘A GOAL FOR ALL OF AFRICA’ from the understated Peter Drury, the daft tit. Uruguay topped the group with ease, followed by Mexico, as South Africa missed out on goal difference. Group B saw Argentina drawn with Nigeria and Greece again, though this time their diminutive cocaine vacuum was sitting on the bench rather than being led away from the pitch by drug-testers, as Diego Maradona took charge of the Angels with Dirty Faces. Maradona’s men cruised through to the second round with three wins, joined by South Korea. In Group C, England were expected to continue their faultless qualification form having been drawn in a group that leant itself to piss-poor puns from red-top shiterature. In the event they dished up a lukewarm draw with the United States, an eye-gougingly dull stalemate with Algeria and an edgy victory over Slovenia to finish second behind the Americans. Not as E.A.S.Y as it looks this World Cup lark, is it?
Group D was seemingly decided by Mr and Mrs Boateng, as their boys Kevin-Prince and Jerome were both allowed to carry on playing into the second round with Ghana and Germany respectively. Serbia, appearing for the first time since their latest rebrand, picked up three points by beating Germany but still finished bottom of the group. Behind Australia. That’s got to sting. Group E had ‘Hipster’s Choice’ spattered all over it like Stan Collymore’s dashboard, as the Netherlands, Denmark, Cameroon and Japan went head to head. In the end a functional Dutch side and the skillful Japanese had too much for Denmark and Cameroon, neither of whom had been any good since the 1986 and 1990 editions of the tournament. The biggest shocker of the group stages arrived in Group F, as World Cup holders Italy rocked up and realised that all the good players from four years ago had retired or gotten old, and had to make do with trying to defend. They failed to keep a clean sheet, and were knocked out by Slovakia. New Zealand cemented their place in pub quizzes for the rest of eternity by drawing all three games and consequently finishing the tournament as the only unbeaten side, while Paraguay topped the group. North Korea’s participation was treated with a similar level of suspicion as their entry in 1966, though this time it was founded on more than blind xenophobia, given the nation’s laissez faire attitude towards nuclear weapons and their madcap leader of state. A brave performance against the boys from Brazil in the opening game saw the world take North Korea’s players to their hearts, but a 7-0 walloping at the hands of Portugal saw them return home in disgrace, with manager Kim Jong-hun treated to a public shaming in front of a live studio audience. A dull looking Group H was lit up with Switzerland’s surprise win over Spain in the opening game, but quickly returned to type as the European champions and Chile eventually won through.
The second round saw the majority of unfancied sides exit, with the South American sides in particular profiting as Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay all progressed to the quarter-finals. Portugal were put in their place by big brother Spain, and England were exposed for the woeful side they were, being swept aside by Germany (though not before Frank Lampard’s goal was incorrectly judged to have not crossed the line – if there’s one thing the English love more than a brave defeat, it’s a manufactured injustice). Italy’s conquerors Slovakia didn’t stick around for much longer either, though the pulsating game between the United States and Ghana was the game of the round, with Asamoah Gyan’s extra-time goal ensuring Ghana became only the third African side to reach the quarter-finals, and giving the host continent a team to root for in the last eight.
Ghana had equipped themselves well in the tournament under Serbian coach Milovan Rajevac, with the explosive Gyan supported ably by former Portsmouth pair Sulley Muntari and Kevin-Prince Boateng, while goalkeeper Richard Kingson had won plenty of new admirers for his performances throughout the tournament, protected by John Mensah and John Paintsil, who’d both been playing their club football in England leading up to the tournament. As they prepared to face Uruguay in the quarter-finals, belief began to grow that Ghana could become Africa’s first ever semi-finalists, and from then on it was anyone’s trophy to win. Uruguay themselves were decidedly top heavy, relying on veteran striker Diego Forlan to lead the line ahead of Palermo’s Edinson Cavani and Ajax’s Luis Suarez, though they’d only conceded once so far – Lee Chung-yong’s effort in the second round – there was a sense they could be got at.
Uruguay dominated most of the first half, with Suarez and Cavani buzzing round behind Forlan, causing Ghana’s defence plenty of problems. The tide appeared to turn in the 38th minute however, as Diego Lugano, defensive marshall and captain, was forced off injured. Ghana seized the opportunity and, in first half stoppage time, Muntari launched an effort past Fernando Muslera from forty yards, with the goalkeeper seemingly unsighted. The Uruguayan pressure was quickly restored in the second half, and ten minutes after half-time Forlan whipped a free-kick towards goal that dipped and swerved in the air, outfoxing Kingson before hitting the top corner. With both sides tiring, and unable to find a killer touch, the game drifted into extra-time, and inexorably towards penalty kicks. Then, in the 120th minute, a goalmouth scramble found Muslera flapping around his area, and substitute Dominic Adiyiah’s header looked set to spark wild celebrations in the stands, only for Luis Suarez to slap the ball away to safety. Portuguese referee José Manuel Silva Cardinal calmly gave the striker his marching orders, and awarded Ghana the penalty that would surely confirm their semi-final place. Gyan stepped up and battered his shot against the crossbar, covering his face with his hands as a golden opportunity slipped away. The camera then panned to the touchline, where Suarez, yet to fully take his leave, was filmed celebrating the miss as if it were a goal for his own team. Vindicated for a moment of calculated risk. Rewarded for cheating the opposition. There was no time to restart the game, and penalties would decide the winner. Of course, Ghana lost.
In the aftermath, Suarez was defended by his national coach, with Oscar Tabarez claiming the handball was “instinctive”, while the African press named him ‘Public Enemy Number One’. Suarez himself? Well as you can imagine, he was apologetic and utterly repentant, emerging after a period of soul-searching to meekly explain “The Hand of God now belongs to me. Mine is the real Hand Of God”. Isn’t it nice to see a bit of humility in the game?
The other quarter-finals saw Netherlands upset Brazil and Germany offer a brutal footballing lesson to Argentina, while Spain edged past Paraguay. Vicente Del Bosque’s team would repeat the trick in the semi-final against Germany, as Carlos Puyol’s goal was enough to put Spain in their first ever World Cup final. There they would meet the Netherlands, victors in an entertaining game against Uruguay, themselves looking jaded from their exploits against Ghana, eventually falling 3-2 to the Oranje.
The final at Soccer City, Johannesburg, was refereed by Englishman Howard Webb (seriously, we’ll take any notion of victory), and from minute one was a scrappy, tempestuous and often violent affair. Full-time shithouse Mark van Bommel spent the game kicking lumps out of Spain’s axis of genius in Andres Iniesta and Xavi, while Nigel De Jong did his bit for Nike by advertising a boot imprint onto Xabi Alonso’s chest with a flying kick that earned just a booking. With the game ebbing away into another shootout, Iniesta won the cup for Spain after good work by Fernando Torres and Cesc Fabregas. In football terms, South Africa was far from a classic, but it had provided moments of drama that 2014 would be hoping to emulate. Luis Suarez had set his own personal bar high…