Friday, 7 May 2010

Exclusive: Behind The Scenes at American and Italian World Cup Camps

THE countdown on is down to 36 days. They've removed their day-by-day rundown from the official site, so let's continue it here, with a sneak look at two of the World Cup bases.

In South Africa, where I'm based in the Highveld at Centurion between Johannesburg and Pretoria, we're into autumn. That means clear skies, the rains are receding... and the days are glorious.

Perhaps that's why the two local World Cup camps looked so bloody perfect today. The USA camp at Irene Country Lodge, about an hour from Oliver Tambo international airport, was first up.

A beautiful hotel with man-made lake - see the exclusive video at, the place is ready, willing and waiting for the Americans to arrive. A low-slung, double-storey five-star complex, Irene boasts a posh al la carte restaurant inside and an outdoor eaterie with unbelievable African buffet.

Outside the rooms where Landon Donovan and company will stay, there's plenty of grass for a morning warm-up before you get to the lake, teeming with jumping carp and barbel, with an island 200 yards out complete with a faux African ruin.

But as in all South Africa venues, the staff are the stand-out feature. Wonderful, warm waiters, waitresses and receptionists clamour around and are more than willing to talk about the imminent arrival of "their" Americans.

Irene hosted the Italians during the Confederations Cup last year and the staff learned a few words of Italian but now the English-speaking Americans face a real African welcome. Amos, the head waiter, says: "The USA have a good chance of going far but Spain and Brazil are the favourites. England can never win it!"

About two miles up the road, Southdown College offers the training facilities - and according to one member of staff, the Italians have nabbed the two green, perfect pitches, leaving the Americans to use nearby Swartkop Hoer Skool's rugby pitch, where the Italians trained last year.

The Italians are based barely three miles away at Leriba Lodge. Again, this is a tranquil oasis of greenery amid suburban sprawl - Centurion has grown out of all recognition since I went to school there when it was called Verwoerdburg in the 1980s.

Leriba has a spa and wonderful gardens will lolloping rabbits. I tracked down a couple of staff, but they were sticking to the company line: "I think Italy have a good chance!" they grinned when asked about their World Cup favourites.

I have just uploaded a second video of Leriba and their charming Hemingways Restaurant, complete with small, private dining rooms for the team and staff.

Though the traffic around the grounds has grown considerably in recent years, both Italy and the USA can be happy with the choice of their officials. They will be living in the lap of luxury, undisturbed by the general hustle and bustle of African life.

But neither of these grounds can compare with England's state-of-the-art facility at the Royal Marang Hotel. Fabio Capello's men have umpteen football pitches and artificial surfaces on offer, right on their doorstep.

And crucially, they are barely 5km from the Bafokeng Sports Palace stadium where they open Group A against the USA on June 11. The Americans will have to travel 60 miles to get there - and it's no doddle.

Advantage England then. But it's a very slight one.

I've been inundated with emails, facebook messages and twitters since my appearance with David O'Sullivan at 702 radio yesterday... also been on SABC Radio 2000 talking politics twice and Cape Talk reviewing the Americans.

It's hectic. Tomorrow I'm off to Indaba 2010 where I will also take in the vital Sharks v Stormers Super 15 rugby match at Kings Park.

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