Friday, 4 December 2009

Theron handles the balls with aplomb

BALLS won't be kicked, caught or smashed today. And they won't be handled by Thierry Henry. They'll just be plucked. Hopefully at random. The World Cup draw in Cape Town tonight has really captured the imagination, it dominates every media outlet.
There are two good reasons for this. Cape Town in summer is paradise, so all the heavyweight correspondents have had this one in their diaries for months. And to make things even more welcoming, the actress Charlize Theron - the first African to win an Oscar in 2004 (pictured) - is handling the balls.
And just to spice things up even further, yesterday, during rehearsals, she pulled out the French ball and exclaimed: "Ireland."
So clearly this is no Hollywood airhead. Theron, born in Benoni near Johannesburg, actually witnessed her alcoholic father being killed by her mother. After that gritty start, she left to act and model in Milan and then Los Angeles and has been living with Irish actor Stuart Townsend since 2004. Oh, and she also runs a charity which provides football grounds for young African footballers. What a woman. Yes, I know far too much about a non-sports star on this occasion.
We can only hope she repeats the Ireland joke today. It cannot be made enough times. You don't need an Irish boyfriend to explain why France don't deserve to be in the hat after Thierry Henry's blatant handball in Paris three weeks ago.
Sadly, that's now history. Today we must focus on the draw and, simultaneously, England's attempts to get their 2018 World Cup bid back on track.
David Beckham is there for both causes. And he's making all the right noises. Hoping to become the first Englishman to play in four World Cup finals, the veteran of 115 caps said: "When you go into a World Cup, I don't think you worry about who you're playing against It's great to be seeded and I am surprised that France are not, but if you want to go all the way you're going to play the best teams at some point. Whoever you come up against, it doesn't really matter."
I guess that's true, but it would be far easier if England came out of the hat with New Zealand, Algeria and Slovenia than the worst case scenario of well-organised USA, Ivory Coast - unbeaten in 18 games - and France or Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal, our nemesis.
Personally I'm much more worried about the views of a Daily Telegraph journalist called Flanagan, who talked this week about "months of negative media attention focusing on poor local ticket sales, acute accommodation shortages, crime and transport problems". What tosh. This World Cup is Africa's first. It's going to be tough enough without that kind of negativity.
Mind you, if England are drawn to play Didier Drogba's Ivorians in Nelspruit... but enough negativity!
Sepp Blatter will be flanked by new South African president Jacob Zuma after a video message from Nelson Mandela at the draw. Diego Mardona, who once claimed the balls are warmed to aid the draw (perish the thought) is banned but Eusebio, born in neighbouring Mocambique, will be there, as will Makaya Ntini, the greatest of South Africa's black cricketers. Ironically, when the draw starts at 5pm English time, his Protea team-mates will be attempting to save the one-day series against Andrew Strauss's men, 1,700km up the coast in Durban, but I suspect the world will be focused on Ms Theron.
Oh, and spare a thought for the South Africans. After all this preparation, all the money spent on ten fine stadiums across the nation, they have to consider this. Their national side, Bafana Bafana (The Boys, The Boys) are ranked 86th in the world by FIFA. That's the lowest ranking ever for a side hosting the World Cup.
Long gone are the days when they won the African Cup of Nations in 1995. A suggestion? Get Clive Barker, the tiny but perfectly formed coach who once guided me at Durban City and Bush Bucks, back on board. He was the brains behind that Nations Cup triumph. The Rainbow Nation needs help!

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