World Cup 2010: And so it begins...
So yet another World Cup is upon us, and true to their word, the hosts exploded Africa's first take on the tournament onto us with a blaze of colour, some endearing dance moves and a goal African footballing legends George Weah, Roger Milla and Kanu would have been proud to add to their collections!
As has been proved year after year, it is imperative that the host nation does well, Africa as an entire continent has embraced this World Cup, just as the whole of Asia seemed to some eight years ago when it was their time to shine. With the eyes of the world watching, Nelson Mandela's dream is officially underway.
Naturally, after tonight's rollercoaster in Rustenburg, all eyes turn to the inevitable question, will England finally emulate the victorious eleven from 1966, on this evidence the suggested answer would perhaps point towards no.
The obvious talking point has to be the performance of a certain West Ham goalkeeper wearing number 12. I'd hate to see how bad his blunder looked in 3D! Ironically his massive error was the type of mistake that David James has made a career set for its own comedy DVD out of, despite his top-class second-half save, which did go some way to making amends for his Frank Spencer impression from the first period, there will still be a lot pointing towards James as the only choice for the rest of England's participation in South Africa. Could it be a case that the grass perhaps isn't Greener with Robert?
The other choice of course is the highly-rated young Mr Joe Hart. He is after all the PFA's goalie of the year. And for those who point to his age as a negative, they perhaps should look at how well Iker Casillas has done with Spain since he was thrust onto the national scene whilst still in his teens.
Green's howler isn't the only headache facing 'Don' Capello over the next week, however. When Rio Ferdinand limped out of the tournament before a ball was even kicked, many were ready to push the panic button, after this performance the button may already be worn out! Ledley 'no knees' King looked dodgy at best in the first half, but compared to Jamie Carragher's shocking impression of a still international class central defender, King looked almost as good as Baresi in his pomp! As the veteran Liverpool warhorse chased about after Josey Altidore's shadow, a man not deemed good enough for the awful Hull side from last season, the Italian taskmaster must have regretted the moment he wasted his phone bill to ring Carragher and tempt him from his international exile.
Call me a biased Evertonian if you will, but I bet Capello now wishes he'd opted to take the ever-reliable Phil Jagielka on the plane instead now. Surely no country can win a World Cup without some pace at the back?!
The left side problem also raised its ugly head again. James Milner was awful in his half-hour cameo, but in his defence, I don't think he was fit enough to start. His replacement, Shaun Wright-Phillips, simply confirmed what England fans knew a long time ago, he's the answer to a question that nobody actually asked.
That said there were still several positives from the game. Terry proved if nothing else that at least England have one centre half worthy of the shirt, and Steven Gerrard was outstanding in the centre of the park. Now, cue the moment where Capello moves him onto the left in order to accommodate Gareth Barry back into the heart of his team.
The much berated Emile Heskey also proved some of his doubters wrong, he produced a performance that showed everything that is good about his game, he held up the ball expertly and allowed the likes of Gerrard and Rooney space the expose a very fragile US defence. However with one-on-one with Tim Howard, midway through the second half, he also showed the side of his game that has made him the figure of ridicule and scorn over the years. Who really thought he'd do anything else but miss? Chances like that simply can't be squandered against the better sides in this competition.
England can, and no doubt will recover from their American prom date. Tougher tests are still to come...
On the note of who will lift the famous trophy come July 11th, the sensible money seems, understandably, going on the Spanish to finally pop their World Cup cherry. Four years ago I walked into a bookmaker on the eve of the 2006 edition of this worldwide spectacle, and confidently handed over a tenner and placed it on Spain lifting the greatest prize in football a month later. Ok, I was wrong, they exited in the second round to eventual finalists France, however, that young, talented side would stride into the European Championships only two short years later, and win the entire thing at a canter. With it, they played a style of football worthy of any El Classico match. Since then the talents of likes Sergio Busquets and Gerard Pique have been added to the ranks that Vincente del Bosque's has at his disposal. So they'll walk it, right? But hang on, didn't we say the same thing about Brazil four years ago?
The Dutch, as always, will delight us on the pitch, whilst their devoted fans will make every stadium they play at look like a Sunny Delight advert gone global! With the brilliant Wesley Sneider pulling the strings, don't be surprised if this orange party goes all the way to the final.
Argentina has the players, well the strikers anyway, but can Diego Maradona really guide this mismatched squad to the final again, just as he did twice as a player? The man is arguably the greatest player to of ever kicked a ball, and seemingly to the whole of his nation, his players included, he seems to be simply viewed as a god. However, I suspect the players love of him alone won't be enough against some of the greatest tactical football minds in the world. Maradona makes decisions that even Kevin Keegan would find bemusing. Jonas Gutierrez is right back, seriously Diego?! Surely even the world best player, Lionel Messi, can't cover for that sort of ineptitude, can he?
Brazil will probably do well, but I don't think well enough. Kaka has been average at best for Real Madrid this season. Germany always comes good on the big occasion but looking at their squad you've really got to ask to question where the creative spark will come from this time around. France was awful in their opening encounter against Uruguay, and let's be honest are bloody lucky to even be at this World Cup, as any proud Irishman will tell you. They are a spent force now sadly, the golden generation has long since passed, and there is no real evidence another will be along any time soon. The Ivory Coast have Didier Drogba, and even with a broken arm he's better than 90% of forwards in the world, but despite having a good squad I suspect Pele's desire to see an African winner will still have to wait at least another four years. Italy is simply not a patch on the ageing, but nonetheless talented squad that lifted the trophy in Germany. I'd be very surprised if lightning struck twice this time around with the Azurri.
But hey, what do I know eh? Algeria will probably now go on win the whole thing, SWP will go on to be named player of the tournament and the Dutch will no doubt crash out in the first round!
I think one thing we all agree on, however, is that the vuvuzelas are the most annoying part of any World Cup since the BBC finally sent Jimmy Hill to a retirement home after France 98!