Itâ€™s no big secret that weâ€™re all a bit worried about World Cup 2010 in South Africa right now.
And though those concerns are very much legitimate, I think itâ€™s time someone offered a few rays of light to counterbalance all the World Cup 2010 doom and gloom.
So, here are ten reasons to be optimistic about South Africa.
1. Great weather
South Africa is a hot, hot country. But not during winter. And since South Africa winter runs May to July that means weâ€™ll have our first winter World Cup. That doesnâ€™t mean snow and ice, it just means â€œwarmishâ€ (17-18Â°C, 63-64Â°F) weather. In other words, pretty near perfect. No blazing sun beating down on tired players (remember the Jack Charltonâ€™s USA â€˜94 water bottle drama?) should mean a higher tempo of football than usual. And thatâ€™s a good thing.
After the Trix and Flix freak show at Euro 2008, and Goleo the sex offender lion from World Cup 2006, Zakumi the leopard fills me with optimism. For one thing, he has the decency to cover his nakedness, and the chances of him eating Ashley Cole are better than for any previous tournament mascot.
3. Neutral ground
Every World Cup has been won by either a European or South American team. When the World Cup is in Europe, European teams tend to win it (Brazilâ€™s victory in Sweden â€˜58 is the only exception). And a European team has never won it in North or South America (list of hosts and winner here). So the fact that this tournament is on neutral territory means the playing field is pretty much level.
4. Favours African teams
Pele predicted an African World Cup winner before the year 2000. Pele was wrong. But 2010 looks like the ideal chance for an African team to break that quarter-final barrier. Cameroon, Cote dâ€™Ivoire, Ghana, Egypt, Nigeria? Any of those teams could theoretically do it.
5. South African tourism
Put simply, the South African economy could do with a boost. And thereâ€™s nothing like a World Cup to generate a bit of tourism. And there are worse places to be a tourist – check out the image above.
6. Bafana Bafana getting better
The atmosphere at a World Cup depends on the host nation being at least decent. So purely footballing wise, the most worrying thing about World Cup 2010 was that South Africa were a terrible terrible football team. But not anymore. Under new coach Joel Santana, Bafana Bafana have just won five friendlies in a row.
South African Standard Time is GMT+2. Thatâ€™s a pretty good time for football matches to kick off. If youâ€™re in Europe, the games will be a little later that youâ€™re used to, but not in the middle of the night. And if youâ€™re in the US then kickoffs wonâ€™t be too early in the morning (good news for west coasters) and east coasters might even be able to catch games after work.
8. Free tickets for locals
FIFA (and their commercial partners etc) are giving out free tickets to locals on low incomes. The phrase â€œleast they could doâ€ comes to mind, but at least theyâ€™re doing it.
9. The match ball
The World Cup 2006 ball was a bit dull. But based on the balls for Africa Cup of Nations 2008, and the Confederations Cup 2009, the World Cup 2010 ball should be a lot more interesting.
10. Leo Messi
At World Cup 2006 he was a bit young. Right now heâ€™s brilliant. In 2010 heâ€™ll turn 23 during the tournament and his performances should be enough to make grown men cry.
DATED: 29th January 2009