RUS­SIA WILL BE A BLAST

Zwane’s ex­pe­ri­ence of Rus­sia makes him con­fi­dently pre­dict a fan­tas­tic month of foot­ball

Pretoria News - - SPORT - MINENHLE MKHIZE Dur­ban

JAPHET Zwane, the former Bafana Bafana in­ter­na­tional, says the FIFA World Cup Rus­sia 2018 that kicks off tomorrow with the clash be­tween the hosts and Saudi Ara­bia should be a fest for many rea­sons.

While there have been fears that racism could be a prob­lem, par­tic­u­larly for fans of the African teams, Zwane does not be­lieve that would be so.

He should know, the man from Umlazi, Dur­ban, hav­ing spent two years play­ing his foot­ball in Rus­sia.

“It de­pends,” he said of the racism is­sue. “Some peo­ple are friendly and there’s a cer­tain sec­tion that treats you as a for­eigner. But I don’t think scenes like those where peo­ple are racially abused will come into the pic­ture dur­ing the World Cup.”

Zwane played for Ros­tov FC be­tween 2003 and 2005 and it is from that ex­pe­ri­ence that he be­lieves the World Cup will be a great fes­ti­val, the gen­eral fears not­with­stand­ing.

From his ex­pe­ri­ences then, Zwane says the “ma­jor­ity of peo­ple are friendly. But, as I said, there is a cer­tain sec­tion that is not friendly.”

That, though, is a char­ac­ter of just about ev­ery coun­try in the world, he ar­gues.

“Even here in South Africa, there are peo­ple who be­have like that (in a racist and hooli­gan­ism way).”

He says the weather con­di­tions will be per­fect for great foot­ball.

“Peo­ple will en­joy good foot­ball. Dur­ing the sum­mer, the sun sets at about 9pm. And when I played there it was al­ways a great time of the sea­son. The world stars are go­ing to love it.”

Talk­ing of stars, it is ev­i­dent that the rest of the world’s eyes will be looking at Portugal’s Cris­tiano Ron­aldo, Lionel Messi of Ar­gentina and Brazil­ian Neymar to set the tour­na­ment alight.

Zwane, though, is of the view that it will be Bel­gium’s Eden Haz­ard ev­ery­body will be talk­ing about come the end of the month-long spectacle.

“Eden Haz­ard is the player to watch for me. He was a stand out player for Chelsea although they didn’t en­joy a good sea­son. This is the platform for him to show­case his tal­ent, and I be­lieve he will,” Zwane said of the Bel­gian star who limped off the field in his coun­try’s last friendly in­ter­na­tional at the week­end.

Zwane is tip­ping Ger­many to de­fend their ti­tle although he fore­sees France pos­ing a se­ri­ous threat to the 2014 cham­pi­ons.

“Ger­many are my favourites. They have a very well balanced team. They know how to win games when it mat­ters the most. France is an­other na­tion that will daz­zle. They will play good foot­ball and win matches.” And the African rep­re­sen­ta­tives? Zwane be­lieves Egypt, who are in the same group with the hosts, Saudi Ara­bia and Uruguay, have it in them to reach the knock­out stages.

“I ini­tially thought Nige­ria were ready to shine. But when I watched their friendly matches, I was left dis­ap­pointed. They have good play­ers but they are not play­ing as a team.

“I think Egypt have a bet­ter chance. They have a good men­tal­ity against Euro­pean coun­tries and that should help them do well in this tour­na­ment.”

PIC­TURE: BACK­PAGEPIX

RUS­SIAN STAR: Japhet Zwane, the former Bafana Bafana winger, spent two sea­sons in Rus­sia.

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