Forget the crime, travel nightmares and rip-off prices; concentrate on the football. That’s the message as the World Cup opened amid the vuvuzela din in Johannesburg. There’s plenty of it, with 64 matches in total. Manchester United interest came early, with Mexico’s Javier ‘Chicarito’ Hernandéz featuring in a 1-1 draw with South Africa today.
This evening, at the truly magnificent Green Point Stadium in Cape Town, French captain Patrice Evra took to the field against former red Diego Forlan and reported United transfer target Luis Suarez. It’s a cliché of course but 30 days of back-to-back matches is truly a festival of football. Magnificent.
It’s a tournament with a unique character too and not just because of the incessant low rumble of an approaching swarm that is recalled by South Africans’ favourite match-day horns. The sheer local pride in hosting the first tournament on African soil is palpable.
On the pitch the hosts took the lead today with a stunning opening goal in the 94,000 capacity Soccer City Stadium before Hernandez’ Mexico struck a late, fully deserved, equaliser to finally silence the banks of vuvuzela. The striker, who officially becomes a United player during the tournament on 1 July, completely missed a header six yards out only for midfielder Rafael Marquez to shank the ball home.
Hernandéz, perhaps surprisingly, started the match on the bench despite seven goals in 13 internationals to date, with West Ham United reject Guiermo Franco starting up front in a 4-3-3 formation. But with Mexico trailing, the 22-year-old Guadalajara-born forward came on as a second-half substitute.
The 5′ 8 in” forward showed some neat touches and plenty of movement without fashioning a chance in 17 minutes on the pitch but with Franco abjectly poor the new United star could well start against France in six days time.
Meanwhile, French captain Evra vowed to win the World Cup for the motherland ahead of Les Bleus’ opening fixture against Uruguay tonight. With arguments rocking the squad this week – Florent Malouda’s anger at coach Raymond Domenech almost coming to blows yesterday – the left-back will need to demonstrate all his leadership skills to bring unity to the side.
“I am very confident and I have trust in the squad,” said Evra, who was appointed captain to succeed Thierry Henry.
“I think we can go right to the end [of the tournament]. Anything can happen in football but that is what drives us. We are in very good health both on and off the field and that is what we need.”
Evra’s promotion came at the expense of Arsenal’s William Gallas, who is now refusing to speak to the media as a result. It’s a remarkable rise for the captain, who arrived at United via footballing backwaters such as Marsala, Monza and Nice.
“It’s difficult to talk about one’s self but I have put in some hard work to this point,” Evra said yesterday.
“I have not had any gifts but I am determined. My first six months in Manchester were difficult but my psychology has helped me get this far.”
No doubt more hard work lies ahead if France is to match the performance in Germany four years ago when, led by the inspirational Zinidine Zidane, the French made the World Cup final.