Monday, 31 May 2010

South Africa 5, Guatemala 0: It's loud, it's brash... but it's a beautiful noise!

SO this is how it’s going to be at the World Cup. Loud. Cheerful. Passionate. Loud. Colourful. Dramatic. Did I mention loud?

I’m at the Peter Mokaba stadium in Polokwane, in the far north of South Africa. The stadium holds 45,000. There are about 38,000 in for the hosts’ penultimate pre-tournament friendly against lowly, volcano-ravaged Guatemala. And everyone of them has a Vuvuzela. And they know how to blow it.

South Africa are 4-0 up. Katlego Mphela scored the first from the spot after a dodgy penalty decision after 12 minutes, but Renielwe Letsholonyane provided a neat second just before the halfway mark.

The aptly-named Surprise Moriri, who has shocked everyone with his contributions lately including Brazilian boss Carlos Alberto Parreira, made it 3-0 before another penalty, this time from Katlego Mphela, pushed the Latin Americans right out of the game after 56 minutes.

Stirring stuff. Every move, every pass greeted by a rising of the Vuvuzela blast... and the goals nearly brought the house down at this magnificent new stadium. But the noise is justified. South Africa, ranked 83 in the world in the latest FIFA rankings, are now unbeaten in 10 since Parreira decided to return to the hot-seat last November. He’s said today he won’t stay on after the World Cup, but he’ll have to if they win it.

Okay, it’ll never happen. But last night, as Portsmouth’s Aaron Mokoena won his 100thcap, Bafana Bafana fans were entitled to dream. And blow their horns.

After a period of consistent under-achievement since they won the African Cup on Nations 15 years ago, the giants of the continent are starting to raise hopes. They could reached the knock-out stages as the third time of asking. They could avoid being the first World Cup hosts not to reach the knock-out stages.

As I type, Bernard Parker, on as a sub, has just thumped in the fifth goal of the night. A roar rents the chilly African sky. This is the Highveld winter, at night it can hit freezing.

But not here at the Peter Mokabe Stadium, where Algeria will meet Slovenia, France play Mexico, Greece take on Argentina and (whisper it) Paraguay battle against the might of New Zealand during the World Cup proper.

And again, while the British press mount their anti-African campaign – I’ve just read a deeply flawed Daily Mail piece on the internet, it makes me puke – I am struck by the goodwill of the people. By the efforts already made to host the greatest footballing show on earth.

At half-time, the lights failed in the media refreshment room. Profuse apologies, torches. No problem. The press box has yet to be completed. Raised eyebrows. But they found us a place, found extension cables to fire up the lap tops... and away we go.

I’ve just done TalkSport radio for the English listeners, trying to explain this deafening atmosphere, this uplifting buzz... even in Polokwane, once known as Pietersburg, in the remote north of the country. It’s a three hour drive from Johannesburg, but on a brand new toll road. Dual carriageway throughout.

On and off the pitch, South Africa works hard. The days countdown. This morning the USA arrived in Irene Lodge, just down the road from my base in Centurion. The police helicopters were out, the nation is on red alert from everything from terrorism to deadly snakes.

With a smile, this people look after you, make sure you’re safe. That’s South Africa. Not the ugly mess you read about in the less respectable British newspapers. And at their heart, Steven Pienaar, the Everton player of the year, moved to a central midfield role. Probing. Linking. The hope of the nation. It’s worked tonight. Can it work against Mexico, Uruguay and France?


  1. The vibe is incredible now and moves up a gear every day. My concern remains what the reaction will be when it all comes to a sudden end.
    Only watched last night's game up unitl the ridiculous penalty. Please Lord we're not in for another South Korea.

  2. Dodgy penalty? Oh yes! Plenty of that to come in an atmosphere like last night. Have a look at my video:

  3. Just read the Daily Mail article. Think you are being over-sensitive. It's interesting that, by mentioning it, you are actually helping to publicise it. I wouldn't have known otherwise, although I must say I don't think it's any big deal.

  4. It's just rubbish. One man having a go at South Africa to make his fascist editor happy! What a prat!