In a world, where every four years, 32 nations gather to determine a champion, only one team can hoist the World Cup trophy. [Cue the massive explosions.]
With apologies to "Iron Man 2," "Twilight" and whatever other blockbusters are headed to theaters this summer, none of them can compare to the most dramatic event of 2010: The World Cup.
The World Cup, in addition to being the only truly world championship outside of the Olympic Games, is the only tournament capable of providing the full range of human emotion:Anger, awe, boredom, depression, disgust, embarrassment, euphoria, frustration, guilt, misery, pride, rage and surprise
. The best screenwriters couldn't script some of those things.
To get you ready for the drama that will start unfolding on June 11 in South Africa, The Star and The Full 90 will introduce you to the teams, the key performers, what to look for and what to expect in this year's Cup.
Starting today with the host country...
South AfricaGroup A THE BASICS
• Nickname: Bafana Bafana (The Boys, The Boys)
• Colors: Gold and Green
• FIFA Ranking: 90
• How They Got Here: Automatic Qualifier (Host country)
• World Cup pedigree
: Qualified for the '98 and '02 World Cups, never progressed to knockout stage.THE PLOT
The host country always qualifies for the knockout stages — even the lowly USA did it in '94. But can a team that FIFA ranks dead last out of the 32 World Cup teams keep up that astonishing statistic?THE DIRECTOR
Carlos Alberto Parreira (Brazil)
Parreira has led five countries to six World Cups (Kuwait '82, UAE '90, Brazil '94 and '06, Saudi Arabia '98, South Africa '10). With good teams (Brazil '94) he won the whole thing; with awful teams (Kuwait, UAE, Saudi Arabia) he has failed to advance. In '98, Parreira was dismissed before the third group game.LEADING MAN
Steven Pienaar (midfielder, Everton).
Whatever attack Bafana Bafana can maintain will flow through the braided midfielder. Pienaar is never flashy, but his pace and instincts pull him into most attacking plays.SUPPORTING CAST
Benni McCarthy (forward, West Ham United), South Africa's all-time leading scorer, fell out of favor with Blackburn during the 09/10 season and didn't light it up during his time with relegation-threatened West Ham United; Aaron Mokoena (defender, Portsmouth) is known as "The Axe" and is the team's captain; Potential breakout performer: Katelgo Mphela
(striker, Mamelodi Sundowns*) is a 24-year-old ball of quickness that will likely come off the bench.THE LIKELY VILLAIN
Central casting couldn't conjure a more villainous-looking defender than monstrously tall Matthew Booth.PRODUCTION NOTES
The team will likely play a very un-Brazilian 4-2-2-2 with two defensive midfielders. It isn't pretty and most South Africans don't really like it, but Parreira doesn't have the talent to do much of anything else.WHAT THEY'LL WEAR IT'S SORTA LIKE...
House Party 2
It's good that they're throwing a party, but South Africa (like Kid and Play) will be shown up by their more-famous guests (like Queen Latifah, Martin Lawrence, Tisha Campbell, Iman).TRAILER
Since they didn't have to qualify, the South Africans don't have a large body of work to examine the last two years. They finished fourth in the Confederations Cup last summer, this was one of their better performances, a 3-2 loss to Spain the third-place game.DO WITH THIS WHAT YOU WILL...
According to a recent survey, South Africa ranks fourth in the world in percentage of people who regularly attend church.CRITICAL BLURBS
If they weren't hosting the Cup, they probably wouldn't have qualified. ... Easily the lowest ranked team according to FIFA. ... Unlike the rest of the field, won't be rattled by the constant (and annoying) buzzing of the vuvuzelas
. They will most likely be buyoed by them. ... Very lucky to have been drawn into the "Group of Disorder." France and Mexico struggled in qualifying and are both easily knocked off their game. ... Best case scenario? Sneak into second place in the group, lose in the knockout stage. ... Realistic prediction? Fourth place in the group with three-straight losses.POSSIBLE HOLLYWOOD MOMENT
South Africa has had a long and troubled history with racial relations (to say the least), imagine the scene that will unfold when 90-year-old former president and prisoner Nelson Mandela and the United States' first black president Barack Obama get together to watch a game at this tournament?
Group A: South Africa, Uruguay, Mexico, France
Group B: South Korea, Greece, Nigeria, Argentina
Group C: Algeria, Slovenia, USA, England
Group D: Serbria, Australia, Ghana, Germany
Group E: Japan, Cameroon, Denmark, Netherlands
Group F: New Zealand, Slovakia, Paraguay, Italy
Group G: North Korea, Ivory Coast, Portugal, Brazil
Honduras, Chile, Switzerland, Spain
Sources: World Cup 2010 (by Steven D. Stark and Harrison Stark); ESPN and Soccernet.com; FIFA; CIA Factbook