Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Marquee Names Could Shift The World Cup Out of Neutral

By Shane Thomas

Been enjoying the World Cup so far? England's draw with the USA aside, the first four days of competition have been greeted warmly by the watching fans, but it has also been accompanied by a collective groan that this tournament may have a touch of 'The Emperor's New Clothes' about it.

While there has been the odd memorable moment - Siphiwe Tshabalala goal for South Africa against Mexico was the most glorious strike of a football I've seen all year - the feeling remains that beneath the hype, the action has been a bit lukewarm. Thus far, only Germany, South Korea & Argentina could claim to be satisfied with their showings so far.

This is partly due to the inherent fear that pervades the early stages of a World Cup. Like with any strong yearning, the desperation to succeed can inhibit and be counter-productive. Also, losing your first game can have disastrous consequences. And history tells us that sides who peak early are rarely the competition's eventual victors. Better to keep your powder dry and improve as the tournament progresses.

However, another factor to consider is that not all the teams involved have got to play yet. And some of those teams are amongst the favourites to triumph in the Rainbow Nation. So South Africa have sent the party invites out and the guests have RSVP'd. But some are choosing to be fashionably late, and make something of a grand entrance.

And least that's my hope. In the next two days, we will see the arrival of Brazil, Portugal, Spain & The Ivory Coast (possibly Africa's strongest team). Looking through some of the repsective personnel it cannot fail to stir the blood of any watching fan. While the World Cup is the biggest competition in football, it's also the game's great showcase. Football's very own red carpet. And us fans are the slavering papparazzi, desperate to get a glimpse of the sport's A-list. Well the waiting's almost over. Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaka, David Villa, Robinho, Fernando Torres, come on down.

Excited again? Some of world football's most expansive sides and thrilling names are on their way. I only hope that they can shift The World Cup out of neutral and begin to truly captivate the watching world. There has been many things to like about the last four days. The vibrancy, the heartening integration of fans from all nations in the stadiums, the vuvzelas. Yes, the vuvzelas (all you fans in South Africa keep blowing those horns, if you're lucky you may drown out the bellyaching killjoys who keep complaining). Now all we need is the quality of the football to be turned up a notch.


Hard to believe, but did you know that there is other sport happening right now? Pebble Beach hosts the US Open on Thursday and Tiger Woods goes in to a major for the first time in over a decade as NOT the outright favourite. Woods has suffered with poor form and injury since his return at The Masters in April and a favourable result for World Number 2 Phil Mickleson could also usurp Woods from the Number 1 spot in golf's world rankings.

Right now, it's clear that Woods is currently a man diminished. He has loomed over the game of golf like a colossus for almost a generation. Well the shadow isn't looming so large right now. The sun has come out to play again and someone had better make hay while it's shining. You see, I have little doubt that Woods will recover his best game and return to pre-eminence at the top of golf's mountain. So the likes of Lee Westwood, Steve Stricker, Paul Casey and Mickleson himself had better make the most of the situation. They have been waiting at the back of the queue for years. Well the spotlight's there for someone new to step into now. Whoever does so should extract the very maximum they can from being golf's top dog as it may not be too long before they get caught in the jaws of a refreshed and vengeful Tiger.

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