Fifty post-World Cup observations
South Africa did a wonderful job hosting the tournament
The tournament will leave indelible memories for visitors to Africa
Who knew that the biggest star would turn out to be an octopus?
JOHANNESBURG -- It made perfect sense that Andres Iniesta's 116th-minute, World Cup-winning goal Sunday night came as such a surprise -- a surprise in that both the Spanish and Dutch sides seemed to be utterly exhausted and playing for penalty kicks, and a surprise in that the Spanish players managed to stop rolling around on the ground long enough to score it. This was, after all, a month full of surprises, nearly all of them good ones, nearly all of them exhilarating. It wasn't long ago that rumors persisted that FIFA might have to snatch the sporting world's signature event from South Africa, and move it to a place like Germany. South Africa would never be ready in time, people thought. It wouldn't be safe, people thought. But it was ready, and it was safe, and Iniesta's goal capped a tournament that proved more accomplished than even most South Africans could have imagined. "WE'VE DONE IT!" exclaimed the headline of Monday morning's edition of South Africa's The Times newspaper.
It remains to be seen whether it was a wise gambit, in some regards, for a developing country to spend more than $5 billion on a sporting event. "This has been a wonderful World Cup," said archbishop emeritus Desmond Tutu on Sunday, "but it doesn't negate the fact that the majority of South Africans don't have houses, schools, clinics, running water and many more things." It will take years to assess the economic impact, positive or negative, that the World Cup has had on South Africa. The day after, however, there is little doubt that the experience of hosting the tournament drew this still-fractured nation, just 16 years removed from the dismantling of apartheid, together in a way in which it has never been drawn together before -- and, perhaps even more crucially, that it drew the rest of the world closer to both South Africa and to the African continent as a whole.
This World Cup, however, also had its lighter moments. To that end, below find 50 observations, musings, lessons and memories that will be taken away from a month the likes of which the international sporting community has never before experienced, and might never again:
1. How successful was the South African security effort during this tournament? So successful that the top six most serious criminal acts against foreigners were all committed by the Netherlands' Mark van Bommel.
2. You know that spray that they use on players after they've been apparently irreversibly maimed, after which they immediately return to the picture of health? Have they tried that on hospital-bound patients yet?
3. From now on when I'm in the market for a box in which to carry my trophies, it will be a Louis Vuitton one. See? Sponsorships work.
4. Six commercial flights scheduled to arrive at Durban's King Shaka International Airport just before the semifinal between Spain and Germany were unable to land because preference was given to private jets carrying "VIPs" such as Charlize Theron, causing some 600 fans to miss the game that they had spent up to $4,000 to attend. FIFA suggests that those passengers try starring in Aeon Flux next time.
5. The early concessions queues issues seemed to be resolved as the Cup went on. However, those fans who waited in line for 45 minutes during the Uruguay/France match for the opportunity to purchase a $3 Halaal beef dog -- thereby missing exactly half of the first World Cup game ever played in Cape Town -- probably wish they had taken a moment to reprioritize.
6. An American reporter who approaches Chinese actors who are pretending to be North Korean soccer fans, and who probably don't speak English anyway, and asks them for an interview probably won't have much luck.
7. This just in, from the Dear Leader: North Korea never actually competed in the 2010 World Cup. Check the North Korean history books.
8. A human being can become accustomed to almost anything. Even vuvuzelas.
9. You really should read SI senior editors Mark Bechtel and Mark Mravic's "Randmarks" blog. Start with the post titled "Slovaks, Kids and Evil Bird-Raising Hoteliers".
10. After listening to the entirety of the Uruguayan national anthem, you will have trouble remembering a time when you were doing something other than listening to the Uruguayan national anthem.
11. If you have forgotten to bring either a beach ball or balloon to a game for the crowd to bat around, one of the free condoms they distribute in the bathroom, inflated and tied off, will work just fine.
12. If you were to have gone to the All-Star "Bafunny Bafunny" show, which featured six of South Africa's top stand-up comedians, you would have received an education as to the hilarious differences between Xhosa people and Zulu people, and you would have learned how much South African comedians love the names "Messi" and "Kaka." The joke of the night might have belonged to Nik Rabinowitz, who theorized that South African president and noted polygamist Jacob Zuma would stop at 16 wives because he had misheard his initial wedding vows as, "Four better and four worse, four richer and four poorer ..."
13. The comedians, and the audience, also made clear how terrifying a young South African politician named Julius Malema is. If you don't know about him, start with his Wikipedia entry.
14. This is not particularly new, but this World Cup again proved that the difference between the great teams and the very good teams is their ability to finish at the goal, and to defend. A lot of teams look similar when the ball's at midfield.
15. The U.S. is a very good team.
16. The most underrated aspect of the U.S.' stoppage-time goal against Algeria was Tim Howard's throw that set it all up. This was a pinpoint, 50-yard, Kevin Love-type fast-break-initiating outlet pass, and the U.S. would have gone home early without it.
17. The U.S., and Jozy Altidore in particular, could really have used Charlie Davies' services during this tournament.
18. Even though he didn't score a goal, Altidore proved that he has serious hops.
19. The U.S. still needs a nickname better than "United States Men's National Team" (USMNT). Suggestions here ranged from formalizing "The Yanks" or "The Stars and Stripes," to adopting the name of the official fan club ("Sam's Army"), to something entirely new like "The Screaming Eagles" or "The Gents" or "The White Stars" (an obvious "no" on the last one).
20. Two weeks after the U.S. lost its Round of 16 match against Ghana, foreigners are still stopping Americans on the street here to congratulate them on the way the team played. The goodwill engendered by the U.S.'s yeoman-like effort will last for a long, long time.
21. Despite his curious personnel decisions, Bob Bradley should remain the USMNT coach through 2014. Unless Sunil Gulati can persuade Jürgen Klinsmann to take the reins.
22. Referee Koman Coulibaly's eternal reputation will benefit from the events that followed -- i.e., Landon Donovan's stoppage-time goal against Algeria, and the U.S.'s resulting advancement out of the group stage -- in a way that Bill Buckner's and Steve Bartman's did not.
23. This remains the photo of the U.S.' 2010 World Cup experience.
24. Best uniforms? Argentina's home kit, as ever. Worst? I guess Slovenia's Charlie Brown number.
25. The U.S. uniform wasn't bad, if a bit milquetoast. Almost made one long for the days of these.