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A Month of Top Class Football
What does the phrase, "World Cup", symbolise? As a sportsman or woman the chance to represent your country, at the highest level, under the scrutiny of the eyes of the world. It could be the highlight of your career. It could also be the most unexpected disappointment.
This is why the football World Cup is so captivating. The tournament is already on everyone's lips, even people who have never before shown an interest. What is billed as a month of top class football is accompanied by heated discussions and passionate debates. There will be both celebrations and tears, with players and coaches taking both the blame and the acclaim. This year, even before the "Finals", the odour of controversy hung in the air with the highly suspected hand-ball by Thierry Henry that effectively ended Ireland's hopes of travelling south in June.
It is the 19th Football World Cup and the teams of thirty-two nations are currently training to make their countries proud. There are those teams that have been here many times before, that know how the heady mix of expectation and exhilaration can tip the scales either way. They are all too aware of the underdog all too eager to step into the boots of the big boys and shake up the game a little. Then there are those for whom the expectation is not so high, those that can relax a little and enjoy the novelty of having made it this far and maybe, just maybe, spring a surprise!
Who will be that random outsider who shocks everyone by making it steadily through the rounds? Could it be South Africa in their hosting year? 2009 saw Nigeria reach the Finals of the U17 World Cup in their own country. Three times winners; this was not such a surprise. However, the story was of the 'random outsider'. Switzerland, as the debutant, was truly the underdog, yet somehow managed to defeat Italy, Germany, Brazil and finally their Nigerian hosts to take the trophy. No home advantage there!
For African football the biggest upset has already occurred. Three times champions of the African Cup of Nations, Egypt should have been an automatic qualifier. It is both surprising and disappointing that the number one African team did not qualify to play in this historic event. Yet maybe this will only add to the captivating element that is the paradox of the most watched sporting event in the world.