The second round of the World Cup starts today, so it is a good time to relive the best moments. Here’s the five best goals for me (in no particular order:
1. First up is the strike by Simphiwe Tshabalala in South Africa’s opening match against Mexico, a game South Africa should have won. Given the state of African teams in the competition–only Ghana made it into the second round–its a good thing the tournament’s first goal was scored by a continental player.
Hopefully the World Cup will shine the light on South Africa’s rich football history. Like the story of of Simon “Bull” Lehoko, a star defender of the 1970s and 1980s with Vaal Professionals and Kaizer’s Chiefs. In this video profile by journalist Leoni Marinovich (for the Twenty Ten project), Lehoko talks about the annual “multi-racial matches”–specifically the 1981 edition–arranged between the White XI and African XI as a sign of political “reform.” It was all politically dubious and some of the white players were often openly racist, but the players enjoyed these match ups. And saw in them what could have been. So did some white football fans.
The opening match of the 2002 World Cup in May 2002 in Seoul, South Korea. Defending champions France against World Cup first timers Senegal. France had a uninspiring run to the World Cup (world champions don’t qualify). Senegal has a young team–standouts: Papa Bouba Diop, Kalilou Fadiga, El Hadji Diouf. France threatens first. David Trezeguet hits the bar. Then that goal. Watch for yourself.
* Senegal finished second and France last in their group. In the round of 16 Senegal beat Sweden 2-1, then lose 0-1 to Turkey in the quarterfinals (after extra time). Most of its players moved to the English Premier League (most notably El Hadji Diouf to Liverpool), but the team declined soon after. Oh, and France they’re in the World Cup after Thierry Henry used his hands.
Not just the team that finally lifts the World Cup on July 11 will be winners. So will be the official sponsors. And FIFA will make sure of that. They’re banning anyone not selling “official” merchandise. One of the companies poised to make billions is soft drink manufacturer Coco Cola.
African players are at the heart of the top clubs in Europe: Chelsea revolves around John Obi Mikel and Michael Essien in the middle and Didier Drogba upfront. All three left Africa as teenagers or earlier. Some through family members or through football agents. Similarly take Samuel Eto’o who has been common to the recent success of first Barcelona and now Inter Milan. Eto’o went to Spain as a 14 year old to Real Madrid. None of these players had to deal with sham agents or had to come through unofficial football academies, common all over West Africa. But these players are exceptions in a lucrative trade of trafficking African players to Europe.
And they will never play at the World Cup, less a lucrative European league.