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World Cup 2010

The return of summer romance

December 9, 2009
By Brett Taylor
(Archive)

Every World Cup has its memorable images, those iconic moments that stick with people for decades to come. In recent times, those images haven't always been positive: Zidane's headbutt in 2006, Rivaldo's face-holding dive in 2002, Baggio's missed penalty in 1994, the 'Hand of God' in 1986.

Zinedine Zidane's infamous headbutt
GettyImages / JohnMacDougallZinedine Zidane's infamous headbutt
Those aside, though, World Cups also invariably produce moments of pure romance, of sporting inspiration. The 2002 in Japan and Korea was the year of the underdog, headed up by Senegal's unforgettable toppling of France in the opening game. In 2006, we had four African debutants at the big party, and Trinidad & Tobago captured everyone's imagination.

But World Cups are also remembered for their off-field personas - Germany's efficiency, Japan and Korea's fantastic people or the USA's scorching summer. South Africa 2010, at this point, seems a World Cup somewhat lacking in fairytale stories. Every nation, or some previous form of every nation, has appeared at a finals before, which takes away from the romance of the tournament. New Zealand will be the likeable underdogs, and North Korea's presence adds an element of mystery, but the even spread of last week's draw should ensure the second round has a fairly familiar feel about it.

Of course, there will be upsets on the pitch - World Cups aren't played on paper, after all. But for those who can't wait to find out, what do you think will be the big stories that shape South Africa 2010? How will the tournament be remembered? Who will be the heroes and villains? What will be its defining image? Here are a few thought-starters for us hopeless World Cup romantics to ponder on.

The African angle

This World Cup is already unique as the first instalment on African soil so, while the teams may be familiar, the setting isn't. From the coastal beauty of Cape Town to the safari backdrop that Kruger National Park provides to the Mbombela Stadium, South Africa gives a glorious representation of the best the continent has to offer.

More so than any other World Cup, an entire continent will unite as a collective host. This will be the African World Cup as much as the South African one. And those cheerful, jovial supporters with their trademark terrace dance parties will give the whole tournament a celebratory feel.

Hosting the World Cup in some sterile, neutral venue would be like racing the Tour de France in a velodrome: the scenery, as much as the action, is what makes the event, and this one promises to be the most colourful, idyllic and culturally rich event world football has seen.

The hosts

Speaking of South Africa, let's not write off the hosts just yet. Before the draw for Japan/Korea 2002, teams would have been hoping to land one of the hosts in their groups as a weaker seed. But as we saw, both teams progressed to the second round, while France and Argentina didn't. With a whole continent behind them, the erratic 'Bafana Bafana' are capable of anything.

All the talk of security and infrastructure problems could have an unsettling effect on visiting nations, so home ground advantage could be a bigger factor than usual. As the lowest-ranked nation at these finals, the hosts have nothing to lose - and every chance of capturing the world's imagination.

Clash of the titans

The draw didn't throw up too many meetings between big teams, but it conjured some fascinating individual battles.

In Group G - the tournament's 'group of death' - we'll witness the artistry of Kaka, the brilliance of Cristiano Ronaldo and the brute power of Didier Drogba up against each other. It could be that whichever superstar fails to fire sees their team make an early exit.

Over in Group D, Chelsea's midfield powerhouse Michaels - Essien and Ballack - will likely be marking each other when Germany face Ghana. Of course, another set of team-mates in LA Galaxy's David Beckham and Landon Donovan will hog all the headlines when England meet USA - if Beckham is involved, that is.

Maradona mania

GettyImagesDiego Maradona could provide some magical moments in 2010
Diego Maradona and World Cups are almost synonymous, and what a treat it is to have El Diego back on the world's biggest stage. Just as he is remembered for scoring both the best and most controversial World Cup goals of all-time, there's a sense Maradona could become a laughing stock in South Africa or just as easily leave as a national hero.

He has the squad to go far (depending which players he eventually settles on), and the quotes to send shivers down the spines of FIFA's top brass. In a game increasingly devoid of characters, Maradona's presence gives South Africa 2010 a welcome element of edginess and unpredictability.

Classic rematches

The venue is new, but some of the battles the draw has set up aren't. USA coach Bob Bradley has already publicly hoped for a repeat of his country's shock 1-0 win over England in Brazil in 1950, when a Joe Gaetjens header sent shockwaves around the world of football.

Eclipsing that upset was North Korea's incredible victory over Italy on English soil in 1966, which sent the footballing minnows through to the second round to face Portugal. Buoyed by the support of their adopted English fans, the North Koreans raced to a 3-0 lead before four Eusebio goals inspired Portugal to a 5-3 comeback win. After 44 long years in the football wilderness, fate has given North Korea the chance for some unlikely revenge when the sides meet in Cape Town on June 21.

Comment below to add your predictions for what you think South Africa's biggest talking points will be.