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?

Saturday, 29 May 2010

USA 2, Turkey 1: Blimey, hold on a bit, these Yanks can play!

You can just see it happening in lounges across England. Those lucky enough to get ESPN's satellite coverage of Saturday's pre-World Cup friendly between Turkey and the United States in Philadelphia were suddenly sitting up in their sofas, with beers and crisps flying everywhere.

"Cor blimey, luv a duck, these bleedin' Yanks can play!" they'll have yelped as Fulham's Clint Dempsey was hitting the back of the net to put his side, England's opening Group C rivals on June 12, 2-1 up against a very useful Turkish outfit.

And there we were thinking baseball, the NFL, ice hockey and basketball (oh, and track and field) are what they're really good at. It may be some game. Especially when England were put through such a struggle by Japan yesterday, before running out 2-1 winners in their deeply unimpressive friendly in Graz, Austria.

Certainly the Americans made me sit up in Centurion, my World Cup base, on Saturday night. Today this American side—prepared pretty thoroughly by the experienced Bob Bradley, who has been in charge for 60 games—fly in to South Africa. By tonight Landon Donovan—who made Bradley's goal last night with some aplomb—will be sleeping about a mile from where I am, in the lakeside luxury of the Irene Country Lodge.

I've just been there for lunch, with former South African goalkeeper Deshi Bhaktawer along with the owner of the lodge and most of Irene, Adrian van der Bijl and their families. What a place. A British village in the middle of Gauteng. Today, for about £5, we had "the same lunch the Americans will be eating". The talk was all of football and who'll win the World Cup.

And you can't rule this hard-running US side out. Not when they're based in such a delightful spot. For a sneak preview of where they are, see my video at .

It was a pig farm when I was a kid. Now it's blooming lovely, and the staff are great... and they speak American (unlike the German base at the exclusive Velmore Estate ( ) or the Greek hotel at the Beverly Hills ( ))!

Mind you, nobody's quite got what England have at the Royal Bafokeng Sports Complex though ( ).

It took the Americans a while to start playing last night. Ranked 14th in the world, they so nearly made a mess of the last game in their "send off series" tour. Everton's Tim Howard was called into action plenty in the opening 15 minutes and eventually conceded the first goal—from Arda Turan in the 27th minute—amongst howls of disbelief from a bumper 55,407 crowd in Philly.

But yes, these Turks were trying to impress their new boss Guus Hiddink. He will take over when his contract to manage Russia finally runs out in the autumn.

For a long time it looked like Michael Bradley, now with Borussia Moenchengladbach in Germany, was getting overrun in the midfield, despite his massive engine. Any thoughts I may have had about nepotism (he's boss Bob's son) were soon dispelled though as he sweated blood to keep his side in the game.

And then who pops up with the best run of the first half? Jozy Altidore, the Hull City striker who managed just one goal—against Manchester City—in the Premier League last season.

And the man whose greatest claim to fame was giving Sunderland's Scottish fullback Alan Hutton a good old head butt towards the end of the season, then produced the 58th-minute his first match since that red card on April 24.

That left Dempsey to send the huge crowd home happy with a well-taken 75th-minute winner as the US dominated the closing exchanges.

The 27-year-old from Texas, showing off his wonderful set of tattoos, said of his 18th goal in 61 appearances afterwards, "It was great, I just stuck it away. We were so much better in the second half."

The US play Australia in a friendly in South Africa next week (June 5). And then, with the very public backing of their President this week ("We are proud of our team, I will have a man in the Oval Office keeping an eye on their fortunes"), it's England, ranked 8th in the world.

Rustenburg's Royal Bafokeng Palace is the place to be on June 12...if you can get a ticket, as the World Cup's two best-supported visiting teams go toe-to-toe.

Still, with Algeria (ranked 30th) stuffed 3-0 by Ireland last week — the Irish should be here but Thierry Henry's hand denied them the chance in Paris last year—and Slovenia (25) lucky to get past Russia in the playoffs, the US and England should get through from Group C whatever the result.

Just as well really. Because blimey, these Yanks can play! Given that England needed two highly-flukey own-goals to see off Japan, this World Cup is anyone's.

Did anyone notice New Zealand, ranked 78th in the world, beat Serbia (15th) 1-0 tonight? Those Kiwis can play a bit too. Italy be warned! But what about favourites Spain—3-2 last-minute winners over Saudi Arabia?!

Germany cruised past Hungary 3-0, Slovakia drew 1-1 with Cameroon in other friendlies while earlier today, troubled South Korea fell 1-0.

I'm off to South Africa v Guatemala is Polokwane with Desh and the SABC lads tomorrow. It's just around the corner, this World Cup. Can you feel it?

Who the hell is Neal Collins (nealcol on twitter)? See .

England must set a precedent and deny a president on June 12

ENGLAND will have to set a precedent and deny a president on June 12 when they open their World Cup campaign against the United States.

Famously beaten 1-0 by the baseball-crazy Americans at the 1950 World Cup in Belo Horizonte in their only previous competitive encounter, today a certain Mr Barack Obama came out fighting for the Yanks.

Ranked at eight in the latest FIFA list, Wayne Rooney, Frank Lampard and Co should have the edge this time over the team in 14th place, but I guess Bill Wright, Stan Mortenson and Co were saying that 60 years ago.

Today President Obama told his men on their departure for Irene Lodge, two miles from where I’m based in Centurion: “I just want to say how incredibly proud we are of the team. Everybody’s going to be rooting for you.

“Althought sometimes we don’t remember here in the US, this is going to be the biggest world stage there is. You’re going to be representing all of us. We’re incredibly proud of what you’ve done already, we are going to be proud of what you do when you get to South Africa.

“And somebody in the Oval Office will be watching ESPN to make sure things are going okay. You’ve got a wonderful supporter in Bill Clinton, he‘s helped make sure this team gets all the support it needs.

“The vice-president is going to see you live, I tried to volunteer but they wouldn’t let me!”

I’m sure newly nearly-elected Prime Minister David Cameron will be saying something similar next Tuesday when England depart... but somehow it doesn’t quite have the same gravitas.

And then you’ve got Alexi Lalas, the hairiest man ever to play for the US, saying this after helping his side upset England in a friendly back in 1993: "The US is in a great position. They play the underdog role very well and, while some might see it as a shock if they win, I don't think it should be.

"England are not as good as they think they are and the US are better than some people give them credit for.

"This is the easiest group the US have ever been in and it would be a complete failure if they didn't qualify."


Friday, 28 May 2010

10 reasons why South Africa are fit to host the greatest World Cup

Just received this email from Cheryl Chezzi, a lady who lives in Soweto. Very quietly, while the rest of the world have been berating her nation for crime rates, violence, deadly snakes and, well, being African, she has witnessed a pre-World Cup miracle. Read this. It makes you weep and it makes you smile:

Hi Neal

Just read your article in “Bleacher Report” about the World Cup here in SA. I was interested to read about the “Bloodbath awaits football fans” headlines. You know I think the papers may be right – we are in grave danger. (If you don’t already know) last Saturday, the Orlando Stadium in Soweto was host to the semi-final Rugby match between the Blue Bulls (rugby team supported strongly by the Afrikaner community) and the Crusaders (from Australia). This was an historic event – never before have an essentially white team played in Soweto, let alone have their (white) fans travel 50kms to the township to support them.

I attached some photos that bear witness to the “danger” that awaits fans here in South Africa. I would love it if those same UK newspapers had the guts to publish these pics on the front pages...

We will host a great event in spite of these doomsayers...

Thank you for your positive outlook towards our country.

Thanks and Regards
Cheryl Chezzi

The full version of this story, as a slide show which I can't reproduce here, is available on

Thursday, 27 May 2010

South Africa have host of a chance but for Michael Essien, it's the end of the world

South Africa finally wheeled out the big guns against Colombia last night as Soccer City echoed to the sounds of the Vuvuzela and another World Cup friendly success.

This one was not pretty, but hey, for a side ranked 83 in the world before the tournament kicks off here on June 11, who's nit-picking? Bafana Bafana coach Carlos Alberto Parreira said his players were "a little nervous at the end" but continues to defy expectations of chronic home failure on the pitch.

The American journalists out here called these pre-World Cup friendlies "exhibitions"... this was never that! Three successful penalties resulted in a 2-1 win over the side ranked 35 in the latest rankings. South Africa's opening Group A clash with Mexico may be a little tougher, but there are tentative signs Bafana Bafana could avoid being the first host nation not to reach the knock-out stages.

With Premier League stars Aaron Mokoena (Portsmouth), Steven Pienaar (Everton) and even the controversial Benni McCarthy (West Ham) all playing a part, Brazilian boss Carlos Alberto Parreira is now unbeaten in NINE since he returned to the hot-seat last November.

To be honest, they were probably better at the Super Stadium in the nearby Soweto suburb of Orlando last week when they only managed a 1-1 draw against Bulgaria. But a sell-out 75,000 crowd with their blaring plastic football horns weren't going to be denied.

What was it former England captain Bryan Robson said last week after his Thailand side were beaten 4-0 in Nelspruit? "An atmosphere like that could work in South Africa's favour. The Vuvuzela could be their 12th man!".

Two local lads out of the unimpressive South African Premier League, midfielder Teko Modise and striker Katlego Mphela, scored the South Africa penalties either side of Giovanni Moreno's spot kick.

Parreira even gave McCarthy, under fire for a lack of fitness (and an abundance of fatness according to sources inside the camp), a run, but he was unable to add to his record 32 goals for the Rainbow Nation.

Colombia, who have failed to qualify for the last three finals, will feel aggrieved by the Kenyan ref Samwel Kipngetich’s decision to retake the first Modise penalty, which was saved by the "Coffee Makers" No 1 David Ospina. The France-based goalkeeper was adjudged to have moved early and Modise was able to make it second time lucky.

South African goalkeeper Itumaleng Khune, the Kaizer Chiefs stopped who appeared to hurt himself early on when he clashed with Jackson Martinez, fouled Adrian Ramos to give away the equaliser, tucked away by Moreno. Worryingly, Khune was substituted at the break.

Pienaar, South Africa's great hope and probably their only truly world-class player, came on at half-time before Valencia fouled the dreadlocked Siphiwe Tshabalala and Katlego Mphela sent Ospina the wrong way with 58 minutes on the clock.

South Africa have two friendlies to go before the opener against Mexico. Guatemala, ranked in three figures, are first at the new World Cup stadium in Polokwane on May 31 with fellow qualifiers Denmark - who beat Senegal 2-0 last night - their final warm-up at Atteridgeville's Super Stadium near Pretoria on June 5.

In other “exhibitions” Uruguay, who are also in Group A with South Africa, France and Mexico, produced an encouraging 4-1 win over Israel, Honduras, who are drawn in Group D with Chile, Spain and Switzerland, could only draw 2-2 in Belarus. Their group rivals Chile crushed Zambia 3-0.

But for true football fans, last night's friendly efforts around the globe were overshadowed by the news that Ghana's Michael Essien has been ruled out of the tournament. Chelsea midfielder Essien, one of Africa's greatest footballing exports over the past decade, has been struggling with a hamstring followed by a knee injury.

His last competitive match was for his country during the African Cup of Nations in Angola but he hadn't played for club or country since. Tonight the Ghanaian FA announced he wouldn’t be fit until July. That leaves Ghana – in the Group of Death with Germany, Australia and Serbia – struggling.

Exclusive: England's World Cup base is ready and waiting... with hardly any deadly snakes lurking!

ENGLAND’S World Cup base is ready and waiting for Fabio Capello’s Lions – a week before the 23-man squad is due to land in South Africa.

Despite headlines just three months ago in the British tabloids suggesting the Royal Bafokeng Sports Campus was “a dump” and “a building site”, the Platinum-rich local tribe have produced, in less than two years, a high-altitude training camp fit for a king.

That’s King Leruo Tshekedi Molotlegi, the 36th recorded monarch of the Bafokeng people. No African tribe offers a stronger lineage. The unmarried 41-year-old’s visionary “Grand Plan” does not stop with a five-star hotel, state-of-the-art-and-beyond gymnasium and the only FIFA Grade 1 rated training pitch in the country, it goes way beyond that, to a dream state which will come to fruition around 2035.

But for now, England and the Football Association should rejoice. They gambled on the tribe who fought to gain their own shares in the local platinum mines... and won. I last visited the site in January during the England cricket tour. When the British press turned up en-masse six weeks later, they slaughtered the place.

But I said exclusively in the Daily Express then that King Leruo would not let them down. I hate to say I told you so but, blimey, you’ve got to see this place to believe it.

Quite how England managed to get drawn in Group C, with their first game on June 12 played two miles down the road at the nearby Royal Bafokeng Stadium against the US (and they return there for their first knock-out game if they top the group on ), we shall never know.

But one thing is for certain. If England don’t win the World Cup after the clich├ęd 44 years of hurt, they won’t be able to blame the preparation.

Martin Bekker, the amiable Chief Executive of the Royal Marang hotel in the grounds of the campus, took me on a fascinating tour. As I arrived he sent me a jokey text saying: “I’ve cleared all the snakes personally”, a reference to yet anothing knocking story in The Sun this week, suggesting England were under threat from deadly serpents. As it happens, it’s winter. They’re hibernating. And they’re no threat anyway.

As we drove in, the staff were shouting “I feel it”, as World Cup fever spread among the works. Here are just some of the major points of interest:

1 The “typical five star” bedrooms are fitted with sensors which automatically turn on a night light when a player gets out of bed.

2 Televisions in the rooms are linked to a network allowing Fabio Capello to communicate with his players even while they are watching a re-run of Eastenders.

3 The gym offers facilities far beyond anything on offer elsewhere in Africa – including a rehabilitation pool with an underwater window for the physiotherapist to monitor his injured patient.

4 The two main training pitches boast exactly the same kikuyu-rye surface as the nearby Royal Bafokeng Stadium and earned a FIFA Grade A rating on May 5. It’s like playing on a carpet. I tried it. Much better than Wembley, and I’ve played on both.

5 At 1,300m the high-altitude, totally secure facility is already gaining the attention of foreign rugby, cricket, athletics and football teams eager to produce a squad of supermen at sea-level.

Look, I’m not pooh-poohing the other wonderful training bases I’ve had access to, but here England have – with shrewd judgement – ended up with the perfect World Cup hosts. Their base goes way beyond anything on offer elsewhere.

While the Germans languish at the luxury Velmore Estate 60 miles to the east in Erasmia, their training pitch looks like something from Hackney Marshes in mid-winter. They only started work on the field in January.

The Italians at Leriba Lodge in Centurion have to decamp to the nearby Southdown College to find a field to play on, while the Americans in nearby Irene Country Lodge have no obvious gym facilities and their training pitch is even further away.

The Dutch, Australians, New Zealanders and Brazilians all find themselves in non-purpose-built facilities with training pitches at local schools some miles away. Even the hosts, South Africa, have to share the Wits University grounds with the Dutch.

Only Argentina, based at Pretoria University’s High Performance Centre, can boast anything approaching the Royal Bafokeng Sports Campus. And Diego Maradona has had to have special toilets installed to ensure his comfort. The Spanish, at Potchefstroom University, are probably in third place with their training camp, used by South Africa’s cricketers.

Bekker, an old boy from the local St Stithians College public school in Johannesburg, has become an honorary member of the Bafokeng tribe. His brief history of the people is stunning. From their roots as a displaced Nguni clan 800 years ago, the current monarch’s ancestors have always been innovative standard bearers for the African folk.

The first indigenous people to own their own land, the cultivated German missionaries and dug diamonds from the Big Hole in Kimberley to create their early wealth. They befriended the legendary Oom Paul Kruger, first president of the Zuid Afrikaansche Republiek, who farmed the land England’s hotel now stands on.

And during the Apartheid years, they survived the noxious homeland system before badgering the big platinum mines for a share of the profits they deserved. Way back in 1989, when South Africa was in a state of emergency, plans for a massive football stadium were put in place... and sneered at by the white Government.

Bekker explains: “The Bafokeng are not your ordinary African tribe. We have a grand plan. Already the Leopards, Potchefstroom’s rugby team, have agreed to use our facility. And the Silver Stars football team have become the Platinum Stars and base themselves in Bafokeng.

“The kingdom covers 14,000 square kilometres, we have a Grand Plan covering education and development. The King gives every child in our 48 schools a free meal every day. And already we are seeing the benefits.

“We ask every one of our children to play one of five sports every day. Cricket, football, martial arts, athletics and netball. And our people dominated the recent national championships in cross-country and judo. Our local footballers are being recognised, we have the largest junior league in the country.

“This is all part of the Grand Plan. To be honest, we weren’t going to build the Sports Campus for another 30 years. But after the Confederations Cup was played here, we were approached by a European Football Association – I’ll leave you to guess which one – and we began work.

“It won’t end here. We have had specialist advice from around the world on where to go, what to do. We want to go all the way. And yes, we have European football teams eager to train here... and we have an Olympic plan too.”

Bekker has that glint in his eye. So too do the staff you come across, busily adding the final touches to a sportsman’s paradise.

There are no deadly snakes, no bloodbaths, no earthquakes, no muggings. The Royal Bafokeng Sports Campus could – should – provide the perfect launchpad for England’s World Cup bid.

Now it’s up to Fabio Capello and his Lions. They can ask no more from the Bafokeng people.

See the video: and there's plenty more if you subscribe to my YouTube stream. Vuvuzelas plus the other camps, from the USA to New Zealand, Greece to Italy...

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Sangoma? It doesn't matter which doctor you choose, they can do the trick

THERE'S a sangoma on the front page of the Johannesburg Star today, leaping in the air outside Soccer City, venue for the World Cup final on July 11.
All twirly bits, loin cloth and head band, this is the kind of guy Europeans and Americans take one look at... and run the other way.
Especially when they discover he has just slaughtered a cow to bless the 94,600-capacity stadium and performed the uKuphahla ceremony to please the spirits of his ancestors before the big kick-off when South Africa take on Mexico here on June 11.
According to the Star, tribal chiefs and traditional medicine men - some still call sangomas witch doctors - came from all over the region to make the vast "kalabash" or cauldron-shaped stadium ready for their side to triumph.
Given they are the fastest rising team in today's FIFA rankings - Bafana Bafana rose from 90 to 83 - they may be having an effect already, though their Brazilian coach Carlos Alberto Parreira may want to share the credit.
Black magic? Voodoo? Hey, it could be worse. How about this for a frightening incentive? Diego Maradona has promised today he will run naked through the streets of Buenos Aires if Argentina win the World Cup.
And that's the point. These guys aren't just about superstition and spells, they're about confidence boosting, aiding belief systems, in a more natural way that our sports psychologists or Rudy Geller could ever manage.
I have a unique insight into this. Apart from the passages in my novel A GAME APART (in case you hadn't heard, it's the book you must read before the World Cup, see where I describe scenes I have witnessed inside African dressing rooms, we have a gardener at the old family home in Centurion.
He is the same age as my father, born in 1933. He's lived in a little room out the back since 1975. For years, dad called him "Smart the garden boy". Until I got back from university, my eyes opened, and got chatting to a man also known as "The Reverend James Sibanda".
He hails from Malawi. He is both a local priest and a doctor. A traditional healer. He drives a Mercedes. Dad drives a beat-up Toyota. Every 45 minutes, on a good day, a new patient arrives to have the bones thrown, the ailments healed, the nerves unfrazzled in an ever-changing Rainbow Nation. Smart still mows the lawn between appointments. What a bloke. I was out talking to him and his son Nicholas before I wrote this piece.
I've seen him at work. Throwing the bones from a little velvet bag, giving herbal remedies, offering wise counsel. Just as I've seen the sangoma hunched over his bubbling kalabash before a major game. And felt the beneficial affect. Honestly. It works.
Mandla Qeleqele, a member of the Traditonal Healers Organisation here, said of today's "cleansing" ceremony at Soccer City: "The purpose is to say to the ancestors that the world is coming to South Africa. So that everything happens in harmony."
I hope it went well. I hope the highly-educated fans from the developed nations don't just snigger at such Africanisms.
Maybe, just maybe, there's something in it. When I tied a ribbon soaked in "muti" or magic around my waist as a young footballer around these parts, I certainly felt it. A honing of the instincts, a settling of the nerves.
Beware Soccer City on June 11 you Mexicans. There's magic afoot. And 90,000 blaring Vuvuzelas!

England Fans, Look Closely at This Picture. Do Not Step Out Of Line at This World Cup

ENGLAND fans, have a look at the picture above. Those who remember Marseille in 1998 and Stuttgart in 2006, where hoodlums bearing the cross of St George disgraced their nation, had better beware.
In South Africa, where violent crime is daily occurrence, the cops don't tend to take prisoners. Literally.
The local police staged a major show of force through the streets of Rustenburg yesterday before England's opening World Cup clash against the USA on June 12.
Armoured trucks, bomb disposal units, guard dogs, mounted police and patrol motorbikes sent out the message: We're ready for anything.
Sleepy Rustenburg awoke to the sounds of police sirens as a vast armada of security forces made their way down the main street. A parade nearly two miles long ended with dramatic simulations of some of emergency and disaster management responses.
The "Security Show of Force" as the local NorthWest police dubbed their march, comes the day after a bomb hoax at the official World Cup fan park.
Lesego Metsi, one of the men tasked with keeping peace among the fans - England and the USA are the two biggest ticket buyers for this World Cup - also has to deal with terrorist threats and high, though declining, local crime rates.
He said: "Our intelligence team is working around the clock with Interpol. Security will be high for the teams at their base camps. We have enough forces and capacity to deal with any threats." Nationwide, World Cup security is being dealt with by a genial General Bheki Cele. I've spent some time with him. Big chap. Got a glint in his eye. This week he was grilled on television over his eagerness to encourage his forces to shoot first, talk afterwards, when confronted with problems.
In Durban last week he told me: "I have the England fans on my radar. I've been over and talked to your police. I know all about them. They will be dealt with."
Cele will send out buses known as "Jaws" with a full-functioning court and cells on board. He grins: "When we get them, we'll charge them and deal with them. If it's a serious offence, they go to jail. Or we take them straight to the airport and send them home."
Guess we've got the message, loud and clear.
Sneak preview of the US World Cup base at Irene Lodge:

Subscribe to my YouTube feed for the Greek, Italian and New Zealand bases. Coming tomorrow: England's base at the Royal Marang.
For reaction (53 comments at the last count) to the Sun's "Deadly Snakes threaten England camp" nonsense, see:

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

The World Cup's Biggest Quote: God Willing I'm Ready Says Torres

THIS could be the single most important pre-World Cup statement made so far. Fernando Torres, the goal-getter who will lead Spain’s campaign, said today: “God willing, I'll be 100 per cent for the first game of the World Cup, for sure.”

This comes, of course, after the Liverpool striker was rushed off for an operation on his right knee in April. The average Anfield fan may not appreciate it, but Torres – the Reds’ most valuable player in a generally awful season – looks like he’ll be ready for Spain’s opening game against Switzerland on June 16 in an apparently easy Group H, which also includes Honduras and Chile.

Torres needed two operations on his knees last season, which is never good news for a 26-year-old with such lovely hair. But Vicente del Bosque will be breathing a short-term sigh of relief. A fit Torres, playing next to David Villa (fresh from his record-breaking move to Barcelona) may just wrap up this World Cup. Torres has scored 56 goals in just 79 games for Liverpool, bettering his record at Atletico Madrid, where he scored 82 in 214 before his record £20m move to England in 2007.

Torres, who insists he will stay at Liverpool next season, said: "I will do a few more days of specific work. I’m happy with my progress. Since January I've had two operations, and that isn't easy. Everything went very well with the first, and in the second the objective was to be ready between six and seven weeks, and I'm at the start of the sixth.”

As for the speculation over his Anfield future, he says: "I want to think about Spain, about winning the World Cup. Since I've been injured, the season has been over for me. I've started working morning and evening to be able to be here, thinking only of getting there.

"It's been a very difficult season. When you start a campaign you hope you will be able to fulfil your dreams, win titles – but it has been just the opposite.

"But there is always a tomorrow in football and this summer, the World Cup. I've put aside the club, the bad season, and I want to finish a difficult season in the best way possible way by making history with my country."

Torres is unlikely to feature in Spain’s three pre-tournament friendlies against Saudi Arabia and North Korea at altitude in Austria, then Poland in Murcia.

But come Spain’s big kick off at Durban’s magnificent Moses Mabhida Stadium, he’ll be one of the favourites for the World Cup’s golden boot. He grins: "Pressure? No, but I know that, along with Villa, I'm lucky enough to be one of the strikers in a team that are among the favourites, and that brings certain privileges."

The La Roja, who are the reigning European champions after their 2008 triumph, must face the runners-up from Group F at Ellis Park on June 28. That could mean Brazil, Portugal or Ivory Coast in the first knock-out round as they bid to end their World Cup jinx.

Backing up his man, Torres’s agent Jose Antonio Peto told Spain’s Punto Radio: "For the moment I can assure fans that Fernando will continue at Liverpool next season.

"Everything is down to Liverpool's attitude, but for the time being Fernando is happy at the club and has a good contract. Liverpool have not spoken to us about his future, so he is just concentrating on playing at the World Cup."

See my latest World Cup base video - New Zealand's Serengeti Estate - at

Monday, 24 May 2010

Mighty Monday: Action from Wembley, Soweto and Melbourne and the World Cup is nearly upon us

YOU know there's a World Cup on the horizon when you spend a Monday night being assailed by "friendly" football from around the globe. England 3-1 Mexico from Wembley, South Africa 1-1 Bulgaria from Soweto... not to mention Portugal drawing 0-0 with the erm... Cape Verde Islands and Argentina beating Canada 3-0.

But perhaps the big pre-World Cup story of the night comes from the greatest island in the world, where the vast Melbourne Cricket Ground witnessed Australia pipping New Zealand 2-1 in a friendly marred by appalling tackles.

Bearing in mind these two nations are generally expected to excel on the cricket and rugby fields, anticipation is high Down Under. But Aussie coach Pim Verbeek slammed his own players - Everton's Tim Cahill and Blackburn's Vince Grella - for a pair of awful tackles, both on Kiwi Leo Burtos.

Both would have been red card challenges in the World Cup and a fuming Verbeek said: "Vince's tackle was worse than Timmy's ... I can't find any reason why they should do what they did. I wanted to take them off immediately but you have to be a bit careful in a game like that.

"If I was the other side, I would have been a little bit mad and might have done something. But New Zealand were very professional and I applaud them - my players were not professional.

"It was a good lesson and I cannot accept what [Grella and Cahill] did. This is not how you should play the game. If it had been a World Cup game there would have been two red cards."

The South African game against Bulgaria was hardly a friendly either. Though all four Premier League stars missed the game in Soweto (Dimitar Berbatov, the Manchester United striker has retired from international football while South Africa’s trio of Benni McCarthy (West Ham), Steve Pienaar (Everton) and Aaron Mokoena (Portsmouth) were all rested) there was no quarter given.

England’s final appearance on home soil before flying out to Rustenburg on Monday was pretty competitive too.

Boss Fabio Capello chose to rest his four Chelsea stars (John Terry, Frank Lampard, Joe Cole and Ashley Cole) after their FA Cup final exertions and went with Tottenham’s injury-prone Ledley King next to captain Rio Ferdinand in central defence.

King promptly scored his first international goal in six years, latching on to club-mate Peter Crouch’s astute far post header. Crouch made it 2-0 from a standing position on the line and though Mexico’s limping Franco pulled one back just before half-time, Liverpool’s Glenn Johnson produced the moment of the match to wrap things up.

A quick one-two with an impressive Theo Walcott saw Johnson break through the Mexican line to bend a shot beautifully into the top corner. Superb.

Quotes of the night though came from World Cup organising committee chairman Danny Jordaan in Soweto. He said: “With the fans here tonight, and the performance on the field, it’s all going well. We can look forward with some optimism to the opening match.”

South Africa’s Brazilian boss Carlos Alberto Parreira said: “They had one shot on goal and they scored. The perfect result is always to win. But I’m happy with the performance. The Colombia friendly, our next game, will be different.”

That opening match sees the hosts take on Mexico at Soccer City on June 11. There were clues to how that would go from London and Johannesburg tonight. And some hard evidence. My advice to Parreira. Keep an eye on former Spurs man Giovani dos Santos, now playing in Turkey. He has lovely hair (permed and hair-banded) but don’t be fooled. The 21-year-old from Monterrey can play.

Okay, hints and allegations, incidents and accidents. I visited the Kiwi World Cup base at the Serengeti east of Johannesburg today. Stunning. But in truth, Argentina, Portugal, England, South Africa, Mexico, New Zealand and Australia have no real idea what to expect out here. And that’s how it should be. The World Cup is nearly upon us.

Gerrard: I Won't Let Real Speculation Spoil This World Cup

SPECULATION over Steven Gerrard’s long-awaited departure from Anfield will NOT spoil his performances at next month’s World Cup.

Gerrard, constantly linked with Real Madrid this time around, admits transfer gossip affected his performances in Germany four years ago but he insists: “I won’t make that mistake again. People around me are under strict instructions not to be talking about my club future or any speculation – it’s not important now.”

One of English football’s best known faces – part of a golden generation which includes Wayne Rooney, Frank Lampard, Ashley Cole and John Terry – says simply: “I’m not really interested at the moment in what’s going on at Liverpool. The biggest thing you can do as a player is win the World Cup.

“There’s still a lot of ambition in me to go and achieve big things. But this might be my last World Cup – I turn 30 soon and the next one in Brazil is four years away.

“My thinking is just to make the most of this one. I fell into the trap four years ago at the last World Cup in Germany. I was driving myself mad thinking about my future – this time I won’t make this mistake.

“I feel as if I am experienced enough now to park issues like that. If other people want to talk about my future, I can’t control that.

“For me, I am really focused and determined at the moment to put all my energy into playing for England.

“But four years ago I used to go back to my room and read the papers, go on the internet and then I would speak to people at home, who were telling me that there was stuff going on.

“I knew that Chelsea were very interested because my agent was telling me. But this year, that won’t be happening. Every time I went back to my room I was driving myself mad thinking about whether I should go to Chelsea or not.

“Mentally, it might have drained me. I don’t know if it did or not but it might have. What is important is that I have a good and successful World Cup with the team. Agents, friends and family have been told not to be talking to me about club stuff.

“You don’t know what the reason was for me not doing myself justice in Portugal in the European Championships and at the World Cup in Germany.

“As a team, we weren’t successful in ’04 and ’06 and not many players came out of it with flying colours, so hopefully this time it will be different.

“The squad is a lot more experienced and the quality is there. The question now is can we go out on the pitch and prove we can be successful enough to challenge for the World Cup?”

There’s no question this has been one of the toughest season’s of Gerrard’s Liverpool career. While the American owners attempt to sell the club, Rafa Benitez could only guide his side to a lowly seventh in the Premier League after failing to see the Reds through to the knock-out stages of the Champions League.

Off the field, Gerrard has been subjected to all kinds of internet rumours and the Daily Mail snapped a picture of his wife Alex Curran without her wedding ring when they investigated the shocking but unsubstantiated claims.

Four years ago, when Gerrard considered joining Chelsea following the arrival of Roman Abramovich’s billions, the move fell through amid death threats to his family.

But it looks like this may be the year Gerrard finally makes the break from his home town with Jose Mourinho’s imminent arrival at Real Madrid the major talking point.

Currently training in Austria before arriving in England’s Phokeng training ground at the Royal Marang next week, said: “After this World Cup, you have three or four weeks’ holiday to consider what the next best move will be for you.

“But also, that depends on how well we do in the World Cup and also what the manager is thinking – so that might be taken out of your hands.

“It has been a disappointing season at club level so, yes, it’s definitely a case of hoping to make up for that at the World Cup and trying to achieve something with England.

“This season was a massive disappointment after finishing second the previous year.

“The challenge for me was can we go one step further? But we took steps backwards.

“Hopefully, things might happen at Liverpool while I’m away. There might be players coming in to help strengthen the team.”rengthen the team.”