S. Africa in World Cup boost from England match

DURBAN (South Africa): South Africa lost the friendly 2-1 against England, but the country’s football bosses say the fact the match took place – and with no trouble – helps prove it can host Africa’s first World Cup in 2010. 

Thursday’s game launching the bid drew attention away from a selection fiasco which saw coach Ephraim Mashaba sidelined for the match for not calling up top overseas-based players. 

“We have to make the point to people that we have had the rugby World Cup, the cricket World Cup and the African Nations Cup. We have the capability, I have no doubt about that,” bid chief Danny Jordaan told Reuters on Friday. 

Johannesburg’s Star daily headlined: “We’re ready for 2010 – South Africa lose game but stake World Cup claim.” 

The match pulled in an estimated 2,000 visiting England fans plus thousands more based in South Africa, but police said it passed off without incident. 

“Everything went off very well. There was nothing at all – not even any row over tickets. The England fans behaved very well,” said police spokesman Balla Naidoo. 

“All the major events we’ve had in South Africa have passed off with no incident, so I don’t see why South Africa cannot get the World Cup in 2010. This is a real eye-opener for them (soccer’s governing body FIFA),” Naidoo added. 

South Africa’s 2010 bid faces likely competition from Morocco, Egypt, Libya and Tunisia. 

Security is paramount. Forty-three people were killed at Johannesburg’s Ellis Park stadium during a 2001 derby match in a stampede blamed on poor planning and crowd control and South Africa’s reputation for violent crime was a worry for some England fans at Thursday’s game. 

International security concerns are also a focus with Morocco reeling from a bombing last week, but Imraan Soomra, corporate affairs manager for the 2010 bid, said: “We are not going to base our bid on the weaknesses of other countries but on South Africa’s strengths.” 

Thursday’s match was the climax of a carefully choreographed public relations exercise which saw England captain Beckham don an African corn-row plait hairstyle to meet Nelson Mandela and pledge his support for the 2010 bid. 

The smooth operation belied divisions in South African soccer. Coach Mashaba was ousted for the fixture in favour of last year’s World Cup coach Jomo Sono after refusing to select foreign-based players who failed to attend previous call-ups. 

“How can South Africa’s soccer heads be trying to stage such a massive international tournament when they can’t even run a national team?” asked a Star editorial. 

Jordaan said the move was justified to boost television ratings in Europe, but insiders pointed to a power struggle. Either way, the row did not detract from the crowd’s fun. 

“I’d like the World Cup to be here – it’s been fantastic,” said England supporter Alan Bird from Nottingham. – Reuters 

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