By Nerea González
Johannesburg, Jul 11 (efe-epa).- A decade ago, all eyes were on Johannesburg as Spain and the Netherlands clashed in the first World Cup final to be held on the African continent. Spain won, and in doing so became bound to a country with which it had previously shared little history.
The competition began on 11 June 2010. A month later, the Soccer City stadium in Johannesburg — since renamed the FNB Stadium — was packed again for the final.
It had been a World Cup of vuvuzelas, of Shakira’s Waka Waka, of Paul the octopus. The Spanish team topped it off by lifting the coveted trophy for the first time in the country’s history.
Not even an ageing Nelson Mandela, who was unable to make the inauguration, could miss the final of a competition that silenced those who questioned South Africa’s ability to host a World Cup.
“South Africans like the way Spain plays football. Simple, efficient football. Very skilful, talented players. And that is what South African football fans want to see,” Danny Jordaan, the president of the South African Football Association (SAFA), tells Efe.
“Germany was certainly one of the favourites, and then the Netherlands played very, very well up until the finals, but in the finals, it was clear that Spain produced the better football. And when Iniesta scored that goal, right here, in the stadium, the stadium just burst in celebration, excitement for the Spanish team, who became deserved winners of Africa’s first World Cup.”
Aaron Mokoena, the captain of South Africa’s national team during the competition, reflects on how the World Cup impacted his country.
“It was the first World Cup on the African continent and in South Africa and it meant a lot for everyone,” he says.
He adds that the tournament helped change people’s perspectives in South Africa and to unite them behind the flag regardless of race or heritage.
As had happened previously with the 1995 Rugby World Cup — which is inextricably linked to the reconciliation period following Apartheid — the 2010 World Cup allowed South Africa to showcase its ability to host global events as one of the continent’s most developed nations.
The former player says the competition brought people together in the so-called Rainbow Nation: “White people, Blacks, Indians, mixed, everyone celebrated together.”
He adds that the unity felt in South Africa today is thanks in part to the legacy of the World Cup.
Mokoena had lived in the Netherlands before, and had a soft spot for the Dutch side in the final but admits Spain deserved the win on that fateful night.
“The best team won,” he says.
Until 2010, the historical links between Spain and South Africa were somewhat limited. But the World Cup final triggered a certain special relationship.
Testament to that is the fact that in 2015, LaLiga chose South Africa as its continental base in its operation to expand internationally.
“(The tournament) united the two countries closely because those who organized the first World Cup on African soil did it very well. And Spain won its first trophy,” Marcos Pelegrín, director of the LaLiga office in South Africa, tells Efe.
Since then, LaLiga, an ambassador of Spanish football around the world, has not only worked to boost its presence in Africa but has also become involved with initiatives to develop the sport locally and has helped in social programs in disadvantaged areas.
“We are in a country where we have to do our part,” he says.