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FIFA World Cup 2010 – A Poignant Sporting Celebration on a Mystifying Continent

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FIFA World Cup 2010 – A Poignant Sporting Celebration on a Mystifying Continent
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south_africa_fans.jpgThe beautiful game of Football is a religion that unifies the people of the world. Millions of devout fans will embrace for the first time, an African celebration of the Gods of the game. A galaxy of the finest exponents of this often spiritually enchanting game will all descend on the mountains and plains of South Africa to contest the greatest prize on offer. The blessed fans will arrive in numbers to chant euphoric prayers and hail their Gods as a galaxy of stars light up the lush green pitches that will host the multitude of contests.

The 19th FIFA World Cup kicks off in the 'Rainbow nation' of South Africa and the 'Dark Continent' prepares to celebrate the brightest sporting spectacle on the planet, with unprecedented colour and revelry. The month long festival will open on June 11th and close with the grand finale on July 11th.

Thirty two of the best football nations will compete for the most coveted of trophies, the erstwhile Jules Rimet Trophy, now known as the FIFA World Cup Trophy. These nations have earned their place in the draw after a lengthy qualification battle that is played out during a three year period, as the most successful nations from each group earn their spots reserved on the basis of an often contentious geographical allocation to different continents.

The first World Cup was held in Uruguay after the passage of an historic vote in 1929 to institute an international competition by the then FIFA President Jules Rimet. Since then the event is a much awaited quadrennial fixture that has seen 18 glorious editions of mesmerising football. Of course there was a drought of twelve years including during the Second World War, when there was no event in 1942 and 1946. That though, is an aberration long forgotten.

Uruguay were the first ever champions, winning 4-2 at home against Argentina in front of an incredible 93,000 people in Montevideo, 1930. Only seven nations have had the honour of lifting the prized trophy, with Brazil being the most prolific of all having won the cup on five different occasions. They have also finished runners-up on two occasions.

The Italians have won four times and the Germans have triumphed thrice as 'West Germany'. A unified Germany though, is yet to win a World Cup; they have finished runners-up in Korea & Japan 2002. Uruguay and Argentina have won twice, while France and England have won in 1998 and 1966 respectively.

The finals have seen many a legend, none greater than Edison Arantes do Nascimento, better known simply as Pelé. The great man was a member of the Brazilian teams that won the 1958, '62 and '70 World Cup, the only man ever to have achieved such a feat.

One cannot forget the prodigiously prolific Just Fontaine who scored 13 goals in 1958. Despite his brilliant finishing, France could only muster third place behind Brazil and Sweden. It is an unmatched performance, but how wasteful that must have felt is best known to the gifted Frenchman alone.

Germany's Franz Beckenbauer (1974-Player/1990-Coach) and Brazilian Mario Zagallo (1958, 62-Player/1970-Coach) are the only two men to have won the biggest prize, both as player and coach. Italian coach Vittorio Pozzo is the only man to have successfully coached two world cup winning teams, back in 1934 and 1938.

World Cup 2010 will feature 32 teams divided into eight groups. The draw was held on December 04th 2009 in Cape Town, South Africa. Each team will play three matches and the top two teams in each group will proceed to the pre-quarter finals, from where the tournament will enter the knock-out phase.

The Draw

Group A consists of South Africa, Mexico, Uruguay and 1998 champions France. The hosts Bafana Bafana have a tough draw and a mountain to climb in order to reach the knock out stages. However, Les Bleus have been in shaky form and that should encourage both South Africa and Uruguay about their chances. On paper, The Mexican El Tri should make it to the second round without too much drama. France though has the best odds in this group at 16-1, Mexico maybe worth a few quid at 80-1. The hosts are offered 100-1 odds, tough to argue with that.

Group B consists of two-time champions Argentina, Nigeria, Korea and Greece. La Albiceleste will start the obvious favourites from this group while there isn't too much that separates the other three nations at this stage of the competition. Ladbrokes offer Argentina at 7-1 behind Spain, Brazil and England. All eyes are on the magical Lionel Messi and their coach Diego Maradona, the brilliance of the young man on the pitch and the ability of the mercurial senior off it will be weighed in high regard. 'The Super Eagles' should be able to just about hold on to second place, given the premier league pedigree in the side, but Korea could challenge these notions.

Group C has 1966 winners England, United States, Algeria and Slovenia. England has received a soft draw and are once again inspiring very short odds at 6-1, the third best among the participating nations. The Lions have made a fine habit out of inspiring hope only to betray their fans in tournament football. It will be interesting to see what they could make of this latest campaign under Fabio Capello and Rio Ferdinand. The Americans will look to have a leg up on Algeria, because Slovenia have gotten the better of Russia in the play-offs and could prove to be a much tougher deal.

Group D is an intensely competitive group with Germany, Australia, Serbia and Ghana forming a formidable quartet. The absence of Ballack may yet prove to be a factor in Germany's performance, while they are expected to head this group they will be pushed hard by Serbia and an Essien-less Ghana.

Any slip up by Germany in the group stages may mean an early encounter against bitter rivals England in the knock out stages. Germany has been installed at 14-1 by William Hill, while Ladbrokes offer 10-1 odds, placing them ahead of Holland!

Group E will see the formidable Netherlands clubbed with Denmark, Japan and Cameroon. The Dutch are the only team alongside Spain to have made the World Cup finals with a clean sheet. Anything less than a dominating performance will be a huge disappointment for the Flying Dutchmen. Cameron will be expected to ride a wave of support from the African fans to stay ahead of Denmark and Japan. Holland is fifth on the list of favourites with their odds at 12/1.

Group F is a dream-like scenario for the defending champions Italy. They should have a relatively straightforward passage in a group that consists of Paraguay, New Zealand and Slovakia. The 'All Whites' lack the exposure to really trouble the others in the group, leaving Paraguay and Slovakia to battle it out for the second spot from this group. The Azzuri are a tightly knit defensive unit, and enjoy 14/1 odds in the run up to the grand event.

Group G is this edition's group of death as Brazil, Ivory Coast, Portugal and North Korea feature in what is probably the toughest group of them all. Ivory Coast is the best equipped African nation to go deep in this tournament, which means they will give Portugal a run for their money. Brazil can be expected to get through this tough group, with the other spot a toss up between Portugal and Les Elephants. Brazil are considered second favourites, just a shade behind Spain at 5/1.

Group H is the final group with favourites Spain joining Switzerland, Honduras and Chile. La Roja finished second in the South American qualifiers behind Brazil, and could end up meeting them again if they reach the knock-out stages.

Spain should have a fairly simple path to the top of the group, the favourites this time, Spain are offered 4/1 by almost every betting expert worth a mention.

Watch-out for the Stars

The World Cup is often the litmus test for true greatness. Success or failure in the quadrennial event determines many a player's immediate future as well as their place in the pantheon of the game. And they shall all assemble in South Africa in a bid to showcase their talent and skills.

Here is the low down on the stars that can make the difference between winners and losers, the players that shall determine the course of this tournament with a quick slithering pass or an orgasmic flurry of goals.

Lionel Messi - Argentina

The magical Messi could make this tournament his defining career statement, creating or scoring goals with equal finesse. He is quick on his feet and he can outpace defenders just as easily as he can outsmart them.

His playing style has drawn comparisons with his coach Diego Maradona, and this is the 5'7" magician's opportunity to give substance to those claims by helping Albiceleste go deep in the World Cup finals. In his role as a creator, he may not get his foot on the Golden Boot but if one of his team mates does get the prize he will have to thank this star for his services.

He has 13 goals from his 44 caps with the national team. He could add a handful if Maradona allows him to play right up top.

Kaka - Brazil

Brazil's finest playmaker has made a mark among the current generation of players, his reputation as one of the greatest playmakers of this generation established beyond doubt. Kaka will be central to Dunga's plans in a team from which he has opted to leave out Ronaldinho and Ronaldo.

Despite his troublesome knee, Kaka's experience and guile will be invaluable to the Brazil frontline. He has the uncanny ability to leave defenders stranded with his intelligent passing, and his immense experience will enable him create an attack that will be feared.

He has represented his nation 73 times, scoring 26 goals. His true value though lay in his ability to create scoring opportunities for the team.

David Villa - Spain

The unselfish Villa may have been an unlikely candidate to score the most for Spain, but an injury prone Fernando Torres invests in this diminutive striker the responsibility of carrying the hopes of Spain on his broad shoulders.

He is a consummate forward, strong off both feet and always willing to pass the ball when the best chance lay at someone else's feet.

He has a commendable 65% scoring rate, having scored 36 goals in his 55 appearances for Spain.

Wayne Rooney - England

England's superstar striker, Rooney carried the hopes of his club this season, with almost single minded determination. Given that he hasn't been as consistent for England at the international level - falling victim either to injury or a reckless tackle - he will be keen to correct the script in this World Cup.

He can be a potent force in determining how far England travels in the premier tournament this year, provided he can stay free of injury and retain his poise.

The 24-year old striker has 25 goals from 60 appearances for the national side. 

Cristiano Ronaldo - Portugal

The showman forward is an excellent dribbler with the ability to strike from far or head when near, but he is most renowned for his skill in set play situations. If he can curb his tendency to showboat and put his team in front of himself, he can be a lethal force. Portugal badly needs his skills and presence in a team that is ageing, besides being part of a tough group that consists of Brazil and Ivory Coast.

Ronaldo has been far less successful at the international level compared to his enormous success with his club teams. He has scored 22 goals in his 68 appearances for his national team.

The wonderfully enervating festival of Football is concluded with the award of some of the most prestigious team and individual prizes. Media members will vote for the winner of 'The Golden Ball', awarded to the best player in the tournament. ''The Golden Boot' is awarded to the player who scores the most goals in the World Cup finals. The finest goalkeeper is rewarded with 'The Yashin Award'; this is determined by the FIFA Technical Study Group. Youth is celebrated at the tournament with 'The Best Young Player Award' given to the best player aged 21 or younger once again as decided by the FIFA Technical Study Group.

The honour of 'The FIFA Fair Play Trophy' is awarded to the team with the best record of fair play, according to the points system and criteria established by the FIFA Fair Play Committee.

south_africa_fan.jpgAn anonymous poet celebrated Football thus -

How I long for the freedom afforded
With jumpers for goalposts
But my wishes are wanton
For my body is - defunct
It is meant for all of us who have all but feet of clay, but know that there is no more beautiful game that mankind has ever known.

The month long celebration is now just a few weeks away. The storm will wash over us drenching us with unparalleled thrill, as the sensual joy of the smoothly passed around ball would lead to the orgasmic pleasure of the goal. Keep your calendars free guys, the greatest show on the planet is on its way!

Click here for the World Cup Schedule, here for the Group Previews and here for the Team Previews.

File Photograph Copyright: Rob Milne and The Media Connection

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