May 17, 2010
Posted: 131 GMT
The World Cup - the biggest carnival in global soccer - is about to kick off in Johannesburg; an event that will see the greatest players and the most powerful nations vie across the fields of Africa for the most coveted prize in the game.
The tournament, which was first played among 13 nations in 1930, has grown into a global behemoth that attracted a cumulative global television audience of 26 billion in 2006 and is expected to see 300,000 visitors travel to South Africa to witness the action in 2010 (figures from FIFA).
Few events have the ability to unite people the world over, but the collective interest generated by the drama of eleven men kicking a ball in pursuit of a golden trophy gets somewhere close.
Whether as a passionate fan or merely as an interested spectator, each edition of the World Cup captures the era, creates new legends and makes history in both a communal and personal way.
And it is these personal stories, from every corner of the globe, that we want to be part of our coverage - so could you contribute by becoming a CNN Super Fan?
May 13, 2010
Posted: 1837 GMT
You might think a work assignment in Saint Lucia and then onto Barbados for a spot of cricket is an out of this world gig to get for a sports reporter.
You certainly won't get any arguments from me on that score but amid all the thrills and spills of this exciting ICC World 20/20 tournament in the West Indies was the heartache I witnessed late Tuesday as the host nation went crashing out.
Hopes were high Chris Gayle could lead his team to the last four in what would have been a repeat of their notable success last year in England.
But it wasn't to be as the sport's former power-house nation surrendered meekly to a surging Australia, who icemented their spot in the semifinals.
Make no mistake, in this part of the world, they live and breathe cricket.
It hurts hugely among the locals here that their team won't be partaking in the tournament's latter stages and that was plain to see as thousands poured out of the Beausejour stadium after the setback against the Aussies.
Some left quietly dejected, others were vocally irate and didn't care whose ears they burned. Either way, it all adds up to show how high passions have been aroused by that initial surge of hope then the sheer pain of seeing their team crash out.
Post-match, captain Gayle reflected on a lack of consistency amongst his squad. I asked him whether committment was at all an issue, something he catagorically denies.
Windies legend Clive Lloyd joined in the debate as he ruefully reflected on a last four line-up of Australia, Sri Lanka, England and Pakistan.
This 20/20 is a hugely exciting form of the game. The fans love it and it brings a new set of skills to the players out there who smash the ball to all corners of the ground in totally unrestricted fashion.
After the disappointments and tragic events which played out during the 50-over World Cup in the Caribbean in 2007, this part of the world desperately needed something to lift the spirits and this past couple of weeks has done just that.
Just a shame for the locals here their team won't be taking part in the showpiece final at Barbados come this Sunday.
May 12, 2010
Posted: 1200 GMT
What does Fabio Capello's provisional England World Cup squad say about his mindset ahead of the finals in South Africa? Well, to me it says that us long-suffering England fans will be in for another summer of uncertainty.
Throughout his two-and-a-half-year reign we've been led to believe that Capello is this inscrutable Yoda-type figure, just a little bit smarter than the rest of us, who knows his own mind and is as impervious to the media as his predecessors were vulnerable. The Italian knows his best team, we assumed. He knows his best squad. He will not take anyone not playing regularly for their club, whether it be down to a loss of form or an injury.
Great, we thought, this guy is the real deal. He's got a handle on things like no England manager since the late, great Bobby Robson, who steered England to the brink of the final at Italia '90. But when Fabio announced his preliminary squad for South Africa, we began to scratch our heads.
In comes Jamie Carragher, who had to be talked out of retirement, and whose Liverpool side have had their worst season in seven years in the English Premier League and didn't come close to winning any other competition either.
Next up is Ledley King, who admittedly played a part in Tottenham's run to a superb fourth-place finish. But he played only 19 of the 38 league games due to his chronic knee condition, which rarely allows him to play two games in quick succession. There are seven in quick succession at the World Cup, if you make it all the way to the final. Will he make it?
And while we're on the subject of the walking wounded, Rio Ferdinand has struggled with injury for most of the season for Manchester United, and played no more than a cameo role in their unsuccessful title run-in. Yet the skipper is in the squad, presumably in the hope that he'll be fit in time. Does Fabio remember a trio of former skippers by the name of Kevin Keegan, Bryan Robson and David Beckham? They went to World Cups feeling not quite right, and guess what, they played that way too.
We'll gloss over the call-up of Aston Villa's Stephen Warnock and Everton's Leighton Baines, because they wouldn't have seen the light of day as cover for left-back Ashley Cole if Wayne Bridge had not bailed in the wake of John Terry's affair with his ex-partner. But Scott Parker in midfield? A wholehearted competitor for sure, but didn't he have his best days at Charlton and Chelsea? And didn't his team, West Ham, just avoid relegation this season?
Up front, I'm glad to see Darren Bent's still in with a shout after a good season at Sunderland, but what happened to Capello's "no play, no way policy" when it comes to Emile Heskey, who spent large chunks of the season on the bench at Aston Villa. And what about Theo Walcott? A non-factor when he was taken to the last World Cup as an unused bench-warmer in Germany, and a bystander for much of Arsenal's season due to injury.
I could go on, but you get the gist. Capello's selection doesn't smack of clarity and certainty - but of compromise, desperation and experimentation. Which is all well and good a year before before the finals, but not what you want to see with less than a month to go. But, as I said, Yoda-like he is, and right I hope he's got it.
May 10, 2010
Posted: 1347 GMT
Dynamite. Every great player needs a nickname, and this is the one I am picking for the formidable Chelsea and Ivory Coast striker Didier Drogba.
He made the headlines for good and bad reasons after an explosive performance in Chelsea’s 8-0 drubbing of Wigan Athletic during Sunday's season-finale in London.
Good, because his superb second-half hat-trick, which sealed his top-scorer status in the English Premier League, helped his side become champions for the first time since 2006. And bad, because his temper tantrum - which erupted after his request to take a penalty was rebuffed by his teammate Frank Lampard - showed his all-too-often criticized petulant manner.
Let’s start with the latter. Many pundits have damned the reigning African footballer of the year for his childish attitude, so let me be the first to defend the fiery forward.
As a coach you would love most players to be like Drogba. Players who want to win and players who want to assume the responsibility of taking penalties, scoring goals and doing the best for themselves and for the team. The question here is did he think of himself ahead of the team?
I don’t think so. If he were poor at taking penalties and seldom had that task, perhaps that argument could be made. However, considering he often takes spot kicks for club and country, and the Blues were already leading at Stamford Bridge, there was nothing wrong with his plea to be the man entrusted with the mission.
Should he have been so exuberant in his protest? Probably not, especially given that Carlo Ancelotti had ruled out anyone other than Lampard taking the spot kick if the occasion arose earlier in the week.
However, in the heat of the moment and because his desire to clinch the 'Golden Boot' ahead of England forward Wayne Rooney - who also had a record of 26 goals going into the final day - was so strong, his combustible emotions ignited.
An incendiary move which was, in my mind, understandable as uncertainty remained over how many more chances he would get in the match to score.
So let’s talk about the goals he netted on Sunday. Once again, Drogba proved that on his day, he is the top striker in the world.
Better than Rooney, Fernando Torres, or any other. He may be 32-years-old, but he is in the form of his life and is difficult, if not impossible to stop.
Without him, Chelsea would certainly have failed in their bid to win the title. Not only because of the 29 goals he scored, but because of the impact he had on every game he played and the space he created for all his teammates to shine.
So what can we expect from the talismanic African at the first World Cup on his home continent? Ivory Coast coach Sven Goran Eriksson recently told me that he is the heart and soul of the Elephants' side and as team captain is crucial for the team’s chances of making it past a tough opening group.
I expect him to score. I even see him getting a hat-trick against North Korea. I just hope he has a bad day at the office against my beloved Portugal.
Whatever happens, and however many goals he scores, there is one certainty; once again Didier "Dynamite" Drogba will be explosive.