There are few events in world sport that capture one’s attention much like the FIFA World Cup, which is currently played by 32 countries, supported by thousands in the stadiums and watched by billions across the world.
It was exactly a decade ago, the largest economy in Africa opened its shores to teams and fans from all parts of the globe to celebrate this biggest extravaganza in world sport – the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
The bidding process was only open to African nations and South Africa beat the likes of Egypt and Morroco to become the first African nation to host this prestigious event in world football.
After the abolition of apartheid and the 1995 Rugby World Cup win, this was possibly the biggest event in the history of this beautiful Southern African country.
So, lets walk together through the memories of how this all came about.
Unity in diversity
To successfully stage an event as big as the FIFA World Cup, it was imperative for all South Africans from diverse cultures and backgrounds to work together.
Well, for a start, the official emblem of the World Cup depicted a bicycle kick with various background colours representing the various cultures in South Africa and how they all stood together in a symbol of unity, hope, vigour and energy.
At the unveiling of the emblem in 2006, the then-South African President, Thabo Mbeki declared:
“We are showcasing a new forward-looking and dynamic South Africa.“
The father of South Africa, Mr Nelson Mandela, fondly known as Madiba, lifted the trophy in joy and tears when South Africa won the bid and remembered how football made him and his fellow inmates feel alive and triumph during the time they were incarcerated at Robben Island.
People from different races and backgrounds in South Africa were more than ready to work in unity and make it a global spectacle worth remembering.
What’s more, the famous Latin singer Shakira added much fun and excitement to the event, with the official world cup song, “Waka Waka (This Time for Africa)“
The event was staged in 10 stadiums across the country, out of which five were newly built with a construction cost of almost $1 billion.
The construction of these new stadiums generated massive employment, serving as a boon for the masses in a country marred by unemployment and inequality.
The five new stadiums were the Soccer City Stadium in Johannesburg, the Green Point Stadium in Cape Town, the Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban, the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth and the Mbombela Stadium in Nelspruit.
What’s more, the Soccer City Stadium, the Cape Town Stadium and the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium were the most-used venues, each hosting eight matches, with the Soccer City Stadium hosting the World Cup final.
Besides building new stadiums, South Africa also upgraded its public transport and road infrastructure in the host cities, including the Gautrain in Johannesburg to ply locals and overseas fans comfortably to and fro for all matches as well as sightseeing.
Not to miss out on the football entertainment, along with the natural beauty and wildlife sanctuaries, more than 300,000 fans from all corners of the globe attended this event which led to a massive boost in tourism for the rainbow nation.
Bafana Bafana a spectacle in itself
The South African national football team, nicknamed Bafana Bafana, automatically qualified for the World Cup, being the host nation.
Not one to disappoint, their opening fixture against Mexico at the Soccer City was a treat for all the locals and neutrals, as the team in yellow and green, coached by the great Brazilian, Carlos Alberto Parreira, drew 1-1 with the much higher-ranked El Tri, with Tshabalala, Bafana Bafana’s midfielder, netting the opening goal.
Although they were comprehensively beaten 3-0 by Uruguay in their second match, South Africa defeated the European powerhouse, France 2-1 in their last group game to end their World Cup campaign on a high.
Bafana Bafana couldn’t progress to the knockout rounds as they finished third in their group, albeit on goal difference.
What’s more, South Africa’s performances were amplified by the vuvuzela – a long horn blown by fans throughout the matches, which became a fad for this World Cup.
An all-European treat in the final
The final was truly a match for the ages, pitting two European nations who were yet to taste World Cup glory – the Netherlands and Spain – an event attended by more than 80,000 fans at the Soccer City Stadium in Johannesburg.
The Netherlands beat South American giants, Brazil 2-1 in the quarter-finals, with Wesley Sneijder scoring a brace and then overcame a spirited Uruguay team, who’s Diego Forlan had played out of his skin to win the Golden Ball, 3-2 in the semi-finals.
Spain also reached the final-four stage for the first time since 1950 after a 1-0 win over Paraguay, courtesy of David Villa’s goal.
What’s more, La Roja reached their first-ever World Cup final, following their 1-0 win over European heavyweights, Germany, with Spain skipper Carlos Puyol scoring the only goal of the game.
The final was enthralling and captivating, with both teams attacking with much flare and defending with much dedication.
Locked at 0-0 in extra-time, and a penalty shootout looming on the horizon, the Netherlands finally gave in when Andres Iniesta scored the winner for Spain in the 116th minute.
Spain had won their first World Cup, and for the Dutch, it was yet again a case of – so close, yet so far.
Such was the success of the event that then-FIFA President, Sepp Blatter rated South Africa’s organizational efforts a nine out of ten, declaring that the rainbow nation could be considered a plan B for all future competitions.
Truth be told, Nelson Mandela always said, ‘sport has the power to unite people in a way that little else does,’ and his beloved country proved this by being a united beacon of light on the global stage and making the 2010 World Cup a huge delight as only they could have done.
To conclude, I salute South Africa and every South African who worked tirelessly to capture the imagination of the world for staging an event that’s remembered till date.
A big thumbs up!