The Greatest World Cup the World Has Ever Seen
Football. Soccer. The sport where people chase a round ball on the ground in teams is to Africans what air is to humans, a necessity. The game may not have originated in Africa, but the passion, the skill and the vigor in which Africans play the game, makes it kind of ours.
Which is why the World Cup is a cherished event in an African household. It is the source of bonding, the fodder for numerous articles whether it is ‘The African Teams at the World Cup’ or the ever-present ‘Where Your Husband is Gone for the Next Few Weeks.’ As if women don’t watch the game too. It’s one of the few times you can watch the “world” - all 195 countries (obviously excluding the unrecognized territories) come together and root for adults to kick a ball around for 2 plus hours.
From my somewhat disdainful tone, you would assume that I abhor the World Cup and organized sport. But don’t mind me I’m just mad salty because this was Belgium’s year and the rest of the teams did not get or respect the memo.
Of all the once in four years spectacles, the World Cup is one of my favorites. There is such unabashed pride, glee, and for some, unhinged patriotism as they come together to support their home country or adopted country. All while emotionally, mentally and sometimes physically tearing down the other team and their supporters. Sports, truly a paragon of human interaction.
I remember my first world cup like it was just 10 years ago. Before South Africa in 2010, I had not experienced the emotion that came with watching a World Cup. I was too young for the 2002 World Cup. I couldn’t understand why Zinedine Zidane was on the back of the newspaper or why all the boys in my class were suddenly talking about Italian players in 2006. But I could feel the intensity, the epicness and somewhat surrealness of the moment in 2010. Also, I had finally stuck with a football team long enough to appreciate the game.
That was the best World Cup. Don’t get me wrong, the Russian World Cup has been amazing. The players and games have been jaw-dropping, the teams have been different and a shock from what I usually expect, which is somewhat the magic or corruption of the World Cup, depending on how you want to look at it. The 2014 World Cup in Brazil was magnificent, the players did their damn thing and Germany was stellar. But nothing compares to South Africa which was out of this world.
I remember that FIFA was truly being a WITCH that year and had the opening ceremony while we were still in school. My father, who is a real one, came and picked us up from school early… well, technically he came exactly when the school bell rang but still. DO YOU KNOW HOW RARE IT IS FOR AFRICAN PARENTS TO PICK YOU UP EARLY FROM SCHOOL? Especially, if you’re not dying or in trouble. Truly the greatest World Cup.
From the opening ceremony, which we still missed because Nairobi traffic is a (pick any four letter word that tickles your fancy), to the moment he who shall not be named touched the ball that robbed Ghana of its win. Plus who can forget the banning of vuvuzelas! No world cup, in MY memory has been as tenuous or contentious as that one. I’ll just throw in that even though I do not remember Maradona’s hand of God, I feel like that is somewhat on par.
South Africa was a moment. Not just for me, but for Africa as a whole. Many of us grew up thinking that Africa was simply a screw-up continent. Most international news outlets and people focus on the tragedies, the disasters, the violence or the incongruity of African life when held up to the Western model. Even when it comes to football, some teams are good enough to make it to the tournament but not enough to take home the trophy.
As a Kenyan, there are certain truths that you grow up believing. One of them is that most of our political leaders are thieves and that there is a slim to no chance that we will live to see the Harambee Stars at the World Cup. Which is why during a World Cup year I am Brazilian, and without the 2010 World Cup, I would not have known this or developed my award-winning strategy. For that, all I can say is Obrigada Brigadeiros.*
My strategy when it comes to the World Cup is to keep an open mind and go in with a handful of teams I can stomach touching the golden football held up by what look like hands. This way, you are not as disappointed when your team doesn’t make it and you still have some contenders in the running. #Iamathinker
I go into the competition with Brazil as my main contender, all the African teams as my backups and then I watch how other teams are playing, find out who has the coolest team name, and then I let my gut and incredible football acumen tell me who will win.
Now, imagine my surprise when during the opening match, South African striker Siphiwe Tshabalala scored and Bafana Bafana, the South African national team, won their first game. Woo, I imagine this is what it feels like to do cocaine. Unadulterated bliss. Anything was possible in that moment and in the months to come.
The 2010 World Cup stands out for me because it made me believe in Africa and the viability of a reality where people don’t look down on Africa, Africans, and African perspectives. Where the African way of life is not an anomaly but just another way of living life on this multifaceted earth. It showed me the interconnectedness of Africans. From the moment the Black Stars became contenders to the tears, shock, and pain we still feel over their loss.
That World Cup also made me think of how epic it would be to have a woman coach at the men’s World Cup. I know. Mind-blowing. I did a cursory google search to see if there had ever been one, or whether there was one this year but alas I was not wrong. However, the team we should all be cheering for, Croatia, has one of the only women at the World Cup on their bench. The other is a delegate for the Spanish team.
Lastly, the 2010 World Cup made me realize that the sky was the limit. I could be anything my imagination wanted me to be. I could be the coach of a men’s soccer team. I could write a book, sell it, get money and then pay for all my friends to go to the World Cup. (spoiler alert, did not happen) Or even better I could find myself in the arms of one of the players and live my best football WAG life. (another spoiler alert, yet to happen)
*Obrigada Brigadeiros = Thank you traditional Brazilian dessert