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A poor final, but ... PDF

By Andrew Norfolk

  THE TIMES, Monday 12 July 2010

A poor final, but ... a magical experience in South Africa 

It may have been a pretty awful match but it was a great occasion.

Of course, we'd hoped for a classic, one of those finals that would live long in the memory for all the right reasons, but last night wasn't all about Spain v Holland . It was also a celebration of South Africa.

We've been here for more than four weeks now and all those European concerns and prejudices we arrived with - crime levels, personal security, organisational ability, and transport infrastructure - have long since melted away.

In their place has come a growing appreciation of the effort this country put into proving the western world wrong, into showing that not only was Africa capable of hosting a World Cup but that it could do so vibrantly and brilliantly.

From the suited executives of the SA2010 organising committee to the street marshals patrolling their own 50 yards of road in the tourist areas of every city, the people of this country have gone out of their way to make their visitors feel safe and welcome.

Last night, the sense of national pride was overwhelming. And well-merited. When the lights went down and Shakira took to the stage - Waka Waka has been a theme song of our South African trip - the words "this time for Africa " had never sounded more appropriate.

Absent from this closing ceremony were the regimentally marshalled performers of Beijing; in their place was a flowing, loose-limbed and totally infectious invitation to join the biggest party on earth. And we loved the elephants.

Then came the Mandela moment, about which it only needs to be said that we'll never forget that we were there to witness it. The massed chanting of tens of thousands of black and white South Africans - Madiba, Madiba - were spine-tingling.

And yes, there was a football match and yes; it was probably fairly desperate if you were watching it on television. It looked pretty ordinary from our seats behind one of the goals, to be honest. But at least the right team won.

You felt sorry for the Dutch supporters, there in such big numbers and such good voice, and couldn't help little moments of weakness when you wondered what it would have been like to be there as a fan if England had been in the final - dream on - but South Africa's World Cup deserved to be won by the best team in the world. And it was.

We're not back in Britain until Thursday - couldn't afford flights any sooner - and to wake up this morning in Johannesburg was to be hit smack in the face by the sudden realisation that it's all over. For this city and the country as a whole it's going to be quite a hangover.

They've earned it. We'll leave others to judge the overall quality of the football at this World Cup, but for a month we've been lucky enough to share this young nation's big adventure on the world stage. South Africa, thank you. It's been an utterly magic experience.

© The Times

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