Cup was triumphant turn for South Africa
From Mandela to Zuma, a celebration of a host nation
JOHANNESBURG — The 120 minutes of soccer that yielded Spain’s most glorious sporting achievement won’t be remembered as one of the more riveting finals in World Cup history.
But in South Africa, the monthlong tournament will go down as the moment when a nation fractured along racial, economic and cultural lines became one — at least for a time — and, through sports, realized a deeper meaning of its young democracy.
So it was fitting that Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s first democratically elected president, made his longedfor first appearance at the tournament before kickoff Sunday.
One week shy of his 92nd birthday, Mandela looked thin and frail, bundled in a black topcoat and hat, as he was driven slowly around the field on a golf cart with his wife, Graca Machel, beside him. The anti-apartheid icon and Nobel laureate did not address the crowd but expressed his pride and elation over South Africa’s star turn as host through a radiant smile and wave of a gloved hand. Former South African president Nelson Mandela, left, waves with his wife, Graca Machel, ahead of the World Cup final.
The crowd of 84,490 stood throughout his appearance, which lasted no more than three minutes, then settled in for an all-European final, Spain vs. Netherlands, that was guaranteed to produce a first-time World Cup victor.
Members of both nations’ royal families, including Queen Sofia of Spain and Holland’s Prince WillemAlexander and Princess Maxima, were seated with 15 African heads of state, including South African President Jacob Zuma and his predecessors, Thabo Mbeki and Willem de Klerk. (Mandela returned home to watch the match on TV.)
Spain scored late in extra time to win 1-0 in a match that wasn’t the kind of open, free-flowing event the world had hoped.
Afterward, coach Vicente del Bosque declared his squad’s victory an achievement “that goes beyond sports,” because Spain, to a lesser extent than South Africa, also has its share of dissenting factions and regional squabbling.
“We’ve been supported by all the people of Spain,” Del Bosque said. “We helped bring our people together.”
It was an equal triumph for South Africa, host of the first World Cup on African soil. People around the globe saw the many beautiful sides to this far-off country.
Skeptics warned that South Africa’s high crime rate, subpar infrastructure and lack of expertise in staging large-scale events would prove a calamity.
But apart from minor glitches, the 2010 World Cup was a success, delivering a unique look, rhythm and feel.
It was marked by the unexpected from the start. Spain opened with a loss to Switzerland. Reigning World Cup champion Italy failed to progress to the second round. And a plastic horn called the vuvuzela became an international sensation (and bane), only to be eclipsed by a psychic octopus named Paul.
For all the national pride and international respect it generated over the past month, even the most optimistic recognize that the World Cup won’t solve South Africa’s profound problems.
Fully half the country’s 49 million people live below the poverty line. One in four adults are unemployed. One in five adults suffer from HIV/AIDS, among the highest incidence rates in the world.
Yet Zuma’s words on the eve of Sunday’s final were undeniable.
“South Africa has come alive,” the president said. “And it will never be the same again after this World Cup.”