PRETORIA, South Africa — For the first time in the history of the World Cup games Latin America has four teams among the last eight. Each of the matches will offer great entertainment to fans worldwide. Of course Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay and Argentina seem ready to play and taking no prisoners.
Perhaps the greatest play I ever saw came during the match between the Netherlands and Brazil in the 1994 World Cup. Brazil fell behind the Netherlands in the second half 2 to 1, then with about 20 minutes to go in the match, the Brazilian captain, a guy named Dunga, came up from his midfield role and blasted a shot from 30 meters out, which hit nothing but the back of the net. The goal lifted Brazil’s spirits up, and they went on to win the game and ultimately the cup that year.
Watch out for fireworks on the field Friday against Holland because Dunga is now the Brazilian coach, and while he has the team oriented towards defense there are some players who can show goal scoring brilliance in the blink of an eye. Just imagine Ronaldino, one of the greatest players in the world, did not make the team. It shows how deep in talent the Brazilians are.
The Netherlands versus Brazil match offers up classic speed and finesse against a powerful, deep defense. It’s important to remember that while Brazil has millions of fans, and will not be shouting out and blowing their vuvuzelas alone come Friday afternoon in South Africa, the Netherlands is not without their local supporters, not the least of which comes from the Afrikaners who, from 1948 until 1994, ruled South Africa under the apartheid government. Apartheid has been banished forevermore, but with their 300-year history in Africa, the Afrikaner people continue peacefully in South Africa. They speak an ancient form of Dutch, and will be in tune, howling battle cries, and blowing their vuvuzelas on Friday in support of the Netherlands. The match will take place in Nelson Mandela Bay in the Eastern Cape city of Port Elizabeth. We’re in for a great game of Soccer so stay tuned.
The second game of that day is being played between Ghana and Uruguay. While Uruguay has won the tournament twice they have not been this far in 50 years. As the only African team remaining, Ghana, on the other hand, is floating on a huge pedestal of support. Their last goal against the United States was a work of art. And their defense, against the strongest team the USA has ever produced, was worthy of their hard fought victory. In Soweto’s Soccer City stadium, the emotional South African fans are going to back Ghana in massive numbers; but so what, they backed their own team and got beat by Uruguay without a fight a riot or even a minor disturbance. The best team won on the day and that’s that.
These games, like a month long Carnival, have been informed by a spirit of camaraderie and an openness of heart that is wonderful to behold. The action on the field of play is matched only by the dancing, drumming and vuvuzela horn blowing in the stands and the streets. Football in Africa is a break from the mundane; it’s a wondrous expression of life, a joyous abandonment. If you could only have seen our friends out blowing their vuvuzelas in the middle of the night after a goal or a good game, you would understand that there is magic in football, and a love in South Africa to be free and a host to the world for a moment in time and space. We’re having a great time here, folks.
Photo: World Cup fans celebrate the games by painting their faces as the South African flag. Audrey & Patrick Scales/CC