South African defender Matthew Booth decided to film his teammates during the recent Confederations Cup competition. (Remember him? He’s the only white guy in the team who fans greet with a loud “Boooottthhh” whenever he touches the ball and who Spanish reporters, looking for black racism decided was booed by the fans.) Booth, who maintains quite an active Youtube channel, regularly films his teammates, and in the video, above, captured them (and their Brazilian coach Joel Santana) singing on camera in the dressing room before their game against Spain in the first round. Check it out. (Here‘s another example.) It also made me wonder again why South African fans don’t leave the vuvuzelas outside the stadium and do some actual singing? That would not sound only better, but would present an actual, not corporate-induced part of football culture in that country, to visiting fans.
FIFA denied my request for tickets so I followed the Confederations Cup from home. I drew on my observations from afar as well as media coverage and conversations with friends in South Africa to learn these five things from the tournament:
1. This beautiful yet scarred country will host an eventful World Cup next year. The stadiums are nice and the climate in different cities may surprise visitors. Also, the difficulties with transport, accommodation, communications, and moving people to the stadiums may be mitigated by next year but are not likely to disappear.
2. The Confed Cup is not a terribly interesting competition. It features too many marginal sides (New Zealand, Iraq, South Africa) and tired European giants (Spain and Italy). No wonder we had to depend on the depth and individual brilliance of Brazil and the do-or-die attitude of the improving USA for entertainment.
3. Despite what the organizers tell us, the vuvuzelas are not part of South Africa’s ‘traditional’ fan culture. The horns appeared in the mid-1990s and did not become widespread until a few years ago. And they were ‘invented’ by a white guy.
4. The trend of the past decade that saw raw speed and set pieces decide so many matches will probably continue in 2010. Given the heavy-handed emphasis on defensive tactics, the pace of players like Kaka’ offers precious opportunities to burst through defensive walls and exploit open space on counter-attacks. Corners and free kicks are key, just ask the USA and South Africa.
5. The 2010 World Cup is a huge national project aimed at enhancing ‘Brand South Africa’ — the image of the country as a modern, democratic, business-friendly, tourist destination. Football-crazy South Africans legitimize this political and economic agenda, even though they pay billions to host the event while FIFA keeps most of the financial profits.
After shocking Brazil with their aggressive, physical style in the first half of the Confederations Cup final, the United States first gave up a two-goal halftime lead and then eventually lost 3-2 to Brazil. Brazilian defender Lucio scored the winning goal with 6 minutes of regular time remaining.
The way the US lost, left The New York Times’ correspondent (who up until the day of the final was announcing a new dawn for US soccer after the shock wins over Egypt and Spain), in a state of depression: “The United States is still a developing nation in men’s soccer,” he opined.
Chicken Dinner–the British blog that’s all about sports betting–suggests you should take your lead from previous match statistics:
1. Brazil have won 14 of their 15 matches against USA (one after extra-time). The USA’s one win over the holders came in the 1998 Gold Cup Final, with former Everton winger Predrag “Preki” Radosavljevic scoring the winner.
2. USA haven’t scored against Brazil in three previous Confederations Cup meetings, with Dunga’s side beating them 1-0 in 1999 and 2003 and winning 3-0 against them last Thursday.
3. Bob Bradley’s side haven’t won any of their last six games against South American opposition, losing five and failing to score in three of the last four.
4. Confederations Cup finals involving Brazil are never short of goals. Their three finals to date have produced 18 goals – an average of six a game.
5. Holders Brazil last attempted to retain the cup in 1999 and on that occasion they reached the final only to lose to the CONCACAF Gold Cup winner – Mexico – in the final. USA are the reigning Gold Cup champions.
The commentator gets carried away a bit after the goal: “… the Samba-dancing Brazilians from South America.” Like Brazilians are always dancing. But you can’t disagree; it was a great free kick by FC Barcelona right back Daniel Alves.
In the end, South Africa and its passionate fans with their vuvuzelas will rue all the missed chances.
On the field the tournament was good for South Africa on the field: After the tentative start against Iraq, and being outclassed by Spain, they turned up. And a few players emerged as stars: goalkeeper Ithumeleng Khune, defenders Matthew Booth and Siboniso Gaxa, midfielders Siphiwe Tshabalala and Steven Pienaar, as well as striker Bernard Parker, can hold their own against the world’s best. South Africa now has a year to build a team around this nucleus of players. And they might just keep the coach.
That leaves us with a Confederations Cup final–that no one predicted–set for Sunday in Johannesburg.
Predicting the result of the semi-final of the Confederations Cup between the United States and Spain–which the US won 2-0–Goal.com associate editor, Shave Evans, also made a promise:
“The U.S. and Spain are set to battle, but for my money, I don’t think it’s going to be much of a competition. Spain is superior on all parts of the pitch and will take the game to Bob Bradley’s man quickly. I can see a small settling in period, but I believe after about 20 minutes or so, the Spanish midfield will take over and make life very hard for the U.S. Because of this, I could see the score ballooning to 2-0 before halftime with a final score or 3-0. If the USA wins, I’ll take up ballet lessons.”