Blatter’s Baby Blossoms

The vuvuzela’s are still ringing after a Confederations Cup that will have left many wondering whether the real deal in 12 months time will reach the same heights. It started with a whimper but as soon as the Egyptians shocked Italy it roared to new levels that never subsided until the final whistle on Sunday where Brazil were crowned champions. The Confederations Cup has evolved from an exhibition tournament to something of great significance, both as a competition and as a logistical exercise for the World Cup in a year’s time. A quick look at Brazilian captain Lucio with his teammates as he led them in joyous chorus tells you this tournament now means something.

The winners Brazil were enigmatic, veering from brilliant to bland from game to game with even drastic changes in performance occurring within a match. Kaka was poor and it is mystifying why 45 minutes of good football in the final made him Player of the Tournament. If they really wanted a Player of the Tournament from the champions why not top scorer Luis Fabiano or the highly impressive Felipe Melo. The Brazilians though did what they do best, win, and Dunga may have taken some of the flair out of their game but he has improved their organisation and added clinical set piece play to their arsenal. Although they won and will remain one of the favourites for the competition in 2010 there was also a feeling that Brazil are about to become unstuck such was some of the drastic drops in performance at points during the tournament.

The team of the tournament though were USA despite there seeming inability to finish a game with 11 men; they went from the brink of elimination to finalists. The USA showed that their brand of ‘soccer’ (I hate calling it that) could cause an upset in a year’s time; they just have to qualify first. It seemed as though with the pressure off Bob Bradley’s side relaxed and after destroying Egypt they went through the rest of the tournament playing counter attacking football that their eventual conquerors would be proud of. If you couple that with a solid defence and a keeper who is reaching his prime, 2010 could be a breakthrough year for football in the States.

The European giants of Italy and Spain did not fair so well. The Italians struggled to steer their Zimmer Frames and they had the look of the French side that arrived in South Korea in 2002 slow, old and clinging onto the last remnants of their ‘Golden Generation’. Just like France they were shocked by a ‘minnow’ and home before the real business started. Spain flattered to deceive, maybe a long season for many of their players affected them at high altitude but in their first real test of the tournament against the Americans they cracked. Now the FIFA ranked best team in the world have it all to prove again.

The final itself was contested between the two best teams in the tournament and although the USA dominated the first half and rightfully went into the break 2-0 up it is a credit to Dunga and the Brazilian players that they came back at the Americans the way they did. In the end it could be argued that a 3-2 defeat flattered the USA. However maybe more important than the crowning of Brazil as champions and more important than the entertainment in the final itself, the question that everyone was looking answered at FIFA headquarters was how the host nation would perform.

South Africa many have argued would not have qualified for this year’s tournament, an argument readily subscribed to after their dismal tournament opener against Iraq, but perhaps the pressure of hosting got to Joel Santana’s men and their kind draw no doubt helped them ease them into the tournament. By the time they faced New Zealand a win would be all they needed. In the semi final against Brazil for 87 minutes they more than matched the Samba Kings. If their football association can avoid the turmoil that has seen 11 managers in 13 years and repair relations with players of the quality of Benni McCarthy then the South African people and Sepp Blatter will be hopeful that Bafana Bafana can make a positive impact on the tournament next year.

South Africa 2010 is very much Sepp Blatter’s pet project as he looks to make sure that football reaches all corners of the earth and with 2014 set to take place in Brazil it will be more than a decade before football returns to it’s commercial heartland, Europe. Blatter will be satisfied with how the tournament went but issues did occur that Danny Jordan, a man who’s passion and determination that the tournament will succeed continues to impress, will have to remedy. Jordan was quick to point out that even the uber-efficient Germans had teething problems when they hosted the competition four years ago, and he insists that just like the German’s it will lead to South Africa holding an incident free and successful World Cup.

Firstly from a football perspective, the pitches have to be better; often you would see puffs of dust come up from player’s feet resulting in them looking more like the baseline at Wimbledon than a surface for international football. Theses pitches are regularly used for rugby, and it showed as the standard of the pitches were not acceptable for the kind of football that FIFA will want played at their showpiece event. Jordan though has given reassurances that after the South African rugby season is finished all host stadiums will have there pitches resurfaced.

FIFA will also be concerned by the number of empty seats seen during matches; even in the final at Ellis Park you could see the odd gap. This in part can be attributed to the ongoing logistical developments across the country, an integral part of South Africa hosting a successful tournament. It was noticeable from watching games on television that some grounds filled as a match progressed and Jordan and his team will want to make sure that every paying customer is in their seats come kick off at next year’s World Cup. The organising committee made attempts to fill the grounds by lowering ticket prices to make it more affordable to the South African public and South Africa 2010 will be the cheapest World Cup in the modern era, with tickets for low grade games costing as little as £7. The organisers seemed to react slowly to the spaces in stadia and as good as it was to see them giving out tickets to local community groups and schools the feeling is that they were slow to react to a situation they must of known was coming. It would be a major surprise if come next summer stadiums are not filled to capacity and if there was even a remote chance of that occurring then FIFA would be far swifter to intervene.

The safety of the fans has also been a paramount concern of FIFA, with international media being quick to raise concerns, sometimes exaggerating these concerns, about whether South African security forces will be able to cope with the deluge of people. There were incidents such as the theft of personal belongings and cash from the Egyptian team hotel. However any incidents that have occurred have been dealt with quickly and it can be assumed that in a year’s time the South African authorities will be even better prepared.

It is important to note this wasn’t the only major sporting event occurring in South Africa this month as the British Lions undertook there bi-annual tour of the Southern Hemisphere. It is testament then that even with two major sporting competitions going on in the country that no major newsflashes of crime have been reported. The authorities remain convinced that as long as fans remain within the advised boundaries then everyone should experience a safe and enjoyable tournament.

Blatter’s ambitious project has passed its first test and will rightly feel confident of passing the final exam in 12 months time. Everything seems to be in place and with some fine tuning South Africa will put on a tournament that will have a distinctive African feel to it. Until kick off on June 11th 2010 Sepp Blatter and Danny Jordan are on a mission to prove all the doubters wrong.

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