FIFA Chooses South Africa: From The Sublime To The Corrupt

Zürich, 2004. FIFA chooses South Africa.

Egypt and Morocco’s World Cup 2010 bids are overshadowed and outmuscled as South Africa gets the nod.

With the stage now decided, South Africa will bask in the spotlight of FIFA’s most celebrated major tournament and play the role of host in the first African World Cup in history.

The sport’s biggest celebration of football will wash up on the shores of South Africa and line the streets with joyous passion.

The World Cup group stages were as far as the Bafana Bafana had accomplished in their two World Cup appearances. A third-place finish was all they could conjure in both France ’98 and Japan and South Korea ’02.

Uruguay and Mexico represent The Americas, while France flies the flag for Europe in Group A. The hosts faced an intimidating task ahead in a group where second place was seemingly up for grabs. Nevertheless, The Europeans possessed the firm favourites tag to progress to the knockouts, and rightly so, considering their arsenal of talent.

Sublime-Shooting Siphiwe Tshabalala

Johannesburg’s Soccer City stadium was packed to the rafters. A sea of yellow and a deafening monotone drone from thousands of vuvuzela-wielding natives attributed to the buoyant atmosphere in South Africa’s largest city. A noise which would become synonymous with Africa’s inaugural World Cup.

The first 50 minutes of South Africa 2010 produced a stalemate in a game that both sides would have earmarked as a real opportunity to register three points. The Mexicans sloppily lose possession in the 53rd minute as South Africa’s centre-half gets a leg in front of his man, diverting the ball into the path of a yellow shirt. Then, a number of passes in quick succession leads to a disjointed Mexico and Kigasho Dikcagoi finding three yards of space to the right of the centre-spot in Mexico’s half.

To Dikcagoi’s left, Siphiwe Tshabalala is building up a head of steam. The fleet-footed winger is in full flight as he sets his sights on Mexico’s eighteen-yard box. The ball is guided perfectly ahead of the South African, who takes his first touch just outside the area. Tshabalala has the weight of South Africa, the continent, and each and every football-lover, on his shoulders.

With aplomb and surrounded by an air of almost arrogance, Tshabalala strikes the ball as it sits up perfectly for him. The type of connection that his younger self would have played out in his wildest World Cup dreams. With his left foot, Tshabalala caresses the Adidas Jabulani, the official match ball, across the keeper. The net rustles as the ball hits the top-right stanchion—the postage stamp. The crowd descends into jubilant chaos.

“Goal Bafana Bafana! Goal for South Africa! Goal for all Africa!”

Peter Drury

Those in attendance saw their nation score the opening goal in a World Cup final. And those at home, well, they had just witnessed one of the best World Cup goals of all time from the comfort of one’s living room. Tshabalala had expertly etched his name into African folklore. An instantaneous icon to a generation of South Africans. The Bafana Bafana had arrived.

A Rafael Márquez-inspired Mexican response was not enough to dampen spirits on the continent, although Mexico had enough to muster a crucial 1-1 draw.

Life After Soccer City’s Wonderstrike

The dust and celebrations had only just settled five days after South Africa’s opening fixture. A spirited Uruguay side was the next task for South Africa. A more challenging assignment, but one which the South African supporters relished.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be for the hosts. A Diego Forlán brace and a 95th minute Álvaro Pereira finish saw South Africa enter their third and final game with one point. Forlán’s first from thirty yards out was a thunderous looping shot which corkscrewed mid-air and left Itumeleng Khune stranded. The South African keeper would later bring down Luis Suárez for a red card, an early bath, and subsequently, Forlán’s second. 0-3 Uruguay.

The following opponents, the French, had witnessed their own struggles. A 0-0 draw against the Uruguayans and a shattering 2-0 defeat to Mexico pitted them third in Group A after a dreadfully slow start by their standards. Languishing on the same points as the Africans, the team sheet for the final game would include six new faces from the last, including the absence of France’s captain, Patrice Evra, who had no place in the starting eleven.

Just shy of 40,000 football fans took their seats in Bloemfontein. They had unknowingly signed up for South Africa’s most remarkable FIFA World Cup display. On paper, this was their most difficult fixture. Yet, Tshabalala hadn’t read the script. It was his turn to turn architect. 

Standing over the ball at a corner, he whipped in an in-swinging cross met by Bongani Khumalo’s towering header. South Africa’s number 20 sent the crowd wild as if he had single-handedly rewound time to the 53rd minute on match-day one.

Yoann Gourcuff’s flailing elbow typified Les Bleus’ World Cup. The central midfielder contested an aerial duel in South Africa’s box, where he led with his arm, catching Macbeth Sibaya with his elbow. The disgruntled Frenchman headed off the pitch looking as dejected as those watching along in France.

Tshabalala and the South African team against France - Red card moment.
REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

South Africa made headway with the one-man advantage 12 minutes later. Progressive play on the wing had Tshabalala involved again. The ball was lashed across the six-yard box and bundled in by a willing recipient. Katlego Mphela puts the Africans up two goals to the good.
A Florent Malouda strike twenty minutes from time sets up a nervy end but one that the hosts see through.

Not Quite Enough in Group A

Gut wrenchingly, the final standings placed South Africa third on goal difference. Consequently, the Mexicans would progress—the cruellest of ways to exit the tournament for the Bafana Bafana, as Rafael Márquez’s strike in the curtain raiser reared its divisive head.

And with that, South Africa achieved an unwelcome record as they became the first host nation of a World Cup to be struck off come the end of the group stages. Ghana, however, were able to advance in their group, presenting as the only African nation to do so, reaching the round of 16.

The eventual winner, Spain, rounded the 2010 South African World Cup off at the Soccer City stadium. The exact spot where Tshabalala allowed his nation to dream. Andres Iniesta scored the game’s only goal four minutes before Howard Webb had readied himself to blow for penalties, giving Jules Rimet a new home.

FIFA Chooses South Africa: CORRUPTION In FIFA

The dark side of football reared its ugly head since Tshabalala’s goal. But, though they have been somewhat tainted, nothing can take the tournament memories away from South African fans.

However, following US investigations into corruption within FIFA in 2013, South Africa’s name was left muddied to the sum of a $10m payment in 2008, four years after the successful World Cup bid.

General secretary of CONCACAF, Chuck Blazer, and Jack Warner of Trinidad and Tobago were the two FIFA officials spearheading the link between South Africa’s World Cup bid and corruption at the highest level in football – claims that the powers that be in South Africa vehemently deny.

Warner, formerly president of CONCACAF, the footballing body which governs football in the Caribbean and North and Central America, was front and centre regarding allegations made.

GETTY

The shady pair were both members of FIFA’s governing executive committee. The committee’s purpose, most notably in terms of the 2010 World Cup, was that it worked towards awarding the hosting rights for each World Cup.

The Diaspora Legacy Programme

South Africa claims there was no wrongdoing on their part regarding the suspect $10m payment sent to CONCACAF. The South African’s reasoning was that the money, meant for the ‘Diaspora Legacy Programme,’ was sent to develop football in a part of the world that required it. It would be these funds that allegedly lined the pockets of already wealthy FIFA officials.

US attorney general, Loretta Lynch, named Warner in a 2015 indictment with nine FIFA officials in the spotlight. The US indictment alleged racketeering, wire fraud, and money laundering conspiracies towards Warner. Highlighted within the prosecution was the breakdown of the $10m payment: 

“On January 2, 2008, January 31, 2008, and March 7, 2008, a high-ranking Fifa official caused payments of $616,000, $1,600,000, and $7,784,000 – totalling $10m – to be wired from a Fifa account in Switzerland to a Bank of America correspondent account in New York for credit to accounts held in the names of CFU and Concacaf, but controlled by the defendant JACK WARNER, at Republic Bank in Trinidad and Tobago”.

The Trinidadian, who pleads his innocence, has endured a long appeal-laden fight against extradition to the US on corruption charges. Blazer, in comparison to Warner, took a different route. After working as a government informant for US authorities, the former FIFA man admitted such charges in a 2013 court hearing. Blazer reportedly attended meetings wearing a wire to harness information and assist authorities in building a compelling case.

The late Chuck Blazer of the United States led a lavish life. In Blazer’s blog, he rubbed shoulders in desirable circles. His blog documents occasions spent with Vladimir Putin, Miss Universe, President Clinton, Prince William, Nelson Mandela, and many more. Regardless, Blazer had wined and dined on FIFA’s money for the last time.

Chuck Blazer’s Blog

The judge in Blazer’s case, referred to Fifa as a:

“racketeering influenced corrupt organisation”

Raymond Dearie

Amongst the list of bribes that Blazer took, as stated in the indictment, was a $750,000 payment from South Africa.

In Blazer’s testimony, he went on record with the happenings surrounding the World Cup bid; “I and others on the Fifa executive committee agreed to accept bribes in conjunction with the selection of South Africa as the host nation for the 2010 World Cup”.

Words and ZICOBALL Feature Graphic by: Sam Ingram – @SamIngram_