Qatari fans celebrate at Aspire Park in Doha December 2, 2010, after the announcement that Qatar will host the 2022 World Cup.
FADI AL-ASSAAD / Reuters
A girl celebrates at Souk Waqif in Doha December 2, 2010, after the announcement that Qatar will host the 2022 World Cup.
By Charlene Gubash, NBC News Cairo producer
Doha is a great place for rest and sun, but soccer fans heading to the 2022 World Cup, beware: Qatar is not a place where you BYOB. All bags are x-rayed at the airport for any banned alcohol.
Qatar subscribes to the same brand of conservative Wahhabi Islam as its neighbor Saudi Arabia, and forbids drinking alcohol, but it is much more easygoing about applying it. You can imbibe at the many luxury five-star hotels, as well as any other hotels with liquor licenses, in the peninsula nation bordering the Persian Gulf. And for the lucky few, the Ritz Carlton executive lounge serves a bottomless glass of good scotch. Qatar has also reclaimed land from the ocean to create Pearl Island, similar to Dubai's famous Palm Island. Many of the two dozen restaurants on the glamorous island also serve liquor.
Residents say Qatar is a great place to raise a family. There is no evidence of prostitution and a low crime rate.
After all, fun is in the eye of the beholder. If soccer fans like shopping at huge air-conditioned malls, jogging the ocean-side boardwalk or setting sail in a traditional wooden Dhow, they can have a good time off the soccer pitch too. Maybe a bit highbrow for rowdy football fans, but residents recommend the renovated old market, the Souk, and the beautiful Museum of Islamic Art.
Those craving a little more excitement can also take to the desert in 4-wheel drives and dune buggies for some “dune bashing,” or try their hand at camel riding and falconry.
But don't expect Dubai-style glitz. “I like it because the management is excellent,” said one expat, who asked not to be named. “Going forward, they are not like Dubai counting on prostitution [for revenue], but on sporting events, business conferences and education.”
Although Putin usually defers to Medvedev on the international stage, as it is the president’s area of responsibility, it was Putin front and center this week, taking on both WikiLeaks and Russia’s bid for the World Cup.
First, Putin gave an interview to Larry King, dismissing criticism of Russia’s style of a ruling duo as an attempt to “destroy our effective interaction in running the country.”
Pavel Golovkin / AP
A young man holding a Russian flag hands out free national flags to motorists in downtown Moscow, to celebrate FIFA's selection of Russia as host to the 2018 World Cup.
But the real intrigue came when Putin announced that he would not be traveling to Zurich to preset Russia’s bid for the World Cup. Putin’s support of the bid, and the resources and results his power can deliver, was one of the key points in Russia’s bid. It was Putin’s personal appeal, in English, to the IOC in 2007 which is widely credited for Russia being awarded the 2014 winter Olympics.
One day later, Russia won its bid in only two rounds of voting. It’s a huge deal for Russia, and Russian pride, to host the World Cup. Medvedev tweeted his congratulations (@MedvedevRussia), it will be Putin’s influence, and strategy, that Russians remember when they think of how they won.
MAINZ, Germany – Winning the World Cup means everything to soccer fans, a yearning that can lead to some strange behaviors.
Superstitious Germany supporters, like myself, turned to special rituals ahead of each game during the recent South Africa contest, hoping that previous victories could be repeated by doing things like wearing the same unwashed shirt or watching the match in exactly the same beach chair, with exactly the same group of people.
Octopus Paul, better known as the so-called "octopus oracle" swims in front of a soccer ball in his tank at the Sea Life Aquarium in the western German city of Oberhausen July 9, 2010.
Even our national team coach, Jogi Loew, after advancing to the knockout stage, admitted that he was wearing his light blue cashmere sweater over and over again in order to cast a good spell on his team's next game.
And then there was the fascination with Paul the octopus, who forecast the outcome for Germany’s matches from his fish tank at SeaLife Aquarium in Oberhausen.
From match to match, we attentively watched the eight-tentacle prophet predict the winner of the next game by choosing between two boxes, each containing a delicious mussel snack and decorated with the respective countries’ flags.
From frying pan threats to honorary citizenship At first, Paul was ridiculed as nothing more than a PR stunt. But then, after correctly predicting all seven of Germany's World Cup games – plus Spain's win over the Netherlands in Sunday's final – Paul left the soccer world, and even his harshest critics, stunned.
"We had World Cup-related events in all of our eight SeaLife aquariums," said Kerstin Kuehn, a spokeswoman for SeaLife in Germany, "with two other octopuses also predicting games and even cute little seahorses playing soccer. But Paul is a real oracle; he became the mega star."
On the sidelines of the World Cup, a media frenzy around Paul kicked in, including live coverage of Paul's predictions on Germany's N24 news channel.
Many supporters of the German team quickly turned into "octopus fans" when Paul predicted German victories over England and Argentina.
But summer love for the cephalopod immediately turned into antipathy after Germany's 1-0 loss to Spain in the semi-finals, which Paul had also correctly predicted.
"Suddenly a number of recipes for octopus dishes were prominently posted on the Internet," Kuehn said.
But Paul still had some notable international supporters, who quickly came to his defense.
"I am concerned for the octopus. I am thinking of sending him a protective team," joked Spain's Prime Minister Jose Luiz Rodriguez Zapatero on Spain’s Radio Cadena Ser.
A Dutch fan wears an octopus-shaped hat outside the Soccer City stadium before the FIFA World Cup 2010 final soccer match between Netherlands and Spain in Johannesburg, July 11.
And Spain celebrated "Pulpo Paul" (Paul the Octopus) as a hero after Sunday's World Cup final victory over the Netherlands. During a parade in Madrid on Monday, Spanish goalkeeper Iker Casillas raised a cardboard cutout of Paul in Spain's national colors. Meanwhile, the city council of Carballiño, a town in northwestern Spain, unanimously voted to name Paul an honorary citizen.
(An ambiguous honor for Paul, some might say, because the specialty of the region is spiced calamari in olive oil.)
International affairs Paul's World Cup duties ended last week, but the octopus is still the talk of the day.
During this week's Russian-German talks in Yekaterinburg, a top Russian official blamed Paul for Germany's painful semi-final defeat.
"I was supporting Germany," Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov told German Chancellor Angela Merkel during the meeting. "Of course, if it was not for Paul – you know who I am talking about, Paul the octopus – then everything would have been fine."
"We ate his brother in arms last night at the restaurant," Russian President Dmitry Medvedev quickly added.
Octopus retired? It seems that everybody wants a piece of Paul these days.
SeaLife in Oberhausen insists that Paul is going nowhere.
"We are definitely not going to sell Paul. He is now retired and will no longer be prognosticating anything," Kuehn said from her Hamburg office.
But whether or not Paul is ready to head into the golden years of retirement, his special talents are still very much in demand.
"We had a large number of strange requests, including women who wanted Paul to predict when they will get pregnant or others who asked if Paul could forecast the lucky lottery numbers," Kuehn said.
And the beat goes on.
A catchy song tribute to Paul is currently a big hit on YouTube and gotten almost half a million views. And a software firm in Brazil has created an "Ask the Octopus" app for Apple's iPhone, which gives users a 50-50 choice for an "oracle" answer.
JOHANNESBURG – There was a dark mystique about the road to Rustenburg well before I even set foot on it.
It's treacherous, I was warned by friends in Johannesburg. Wild animals wander on it at will, and crime – car-jacking, in particular – is rife. Don’t even think about driving after dark, and if you do, don't stop!
Photo by EPA/KIM LUDBROOK
South African fans enjoy the FIFA Fan Fest in Sandton during their group match against France in Johannesburg on June 22.
A few days later, I was on that road in the middle of the night, after reporting on a late World Cup soccer match in Rustenburg. Hotels were full, and we had an early-morning appointment in Johannesburg, two to three hours away.
I was navigating a rental car down dark and largely deserted roads with the help of a GPS, half expecting its monotonous tone to kick in with: "At the sight of a wildebeest, swerve left." Or, "When the gunman steps out, hand over your cash and car keys."
Short on gas, I had to stop at a deserted garage. I could see the silhouettes of people moving inside the garage shop. I stepped nervously inside, and immediately felt like a complete fool.
There was a party atmosphere among the staff, as they argued among themselves – then with us – about the soccer match, while sorting through early editions of newspapers plastered with World Cup images. One of them blasted a vuvuzela.
It was four o'clock in the morning, and the World Cup party was still swinging on this lonely outpost on the Rustenburg road.
Of course we got back safely to Johannesburg, and with hindsight, the paranoia about crime, like most of the other concerns over South Africa's ability to host a successful World Cup were overblown.
Like most people who made the journey to South Africa, I'd heard about the country's horrendous crime and security problems, and had read predictions of open season on gullible soccer fans.
In reality, there has been some crime, of course, mostly petty. But for the most part, the massive World Cup crime wave was a bigger non-event than the performances of the English or French soccer teams.
Policing was beefed up, particularly in areas fans frequented, and special World Cup courts were set up to administer swift justice, though they've hardly been busy – less than 180 cases at the last count.
There were plenty of naysayers ahead of the tournament, doubting South Africa's readiness or ability to stage the event.
Instead it's been well run, a great party, with a very unique flavor and sound (those vuvuzelas!) of its own.
Photo by RAJESH JANTILAL/AFP/Getty Images
Supporters of Spain play the vuvuzela at the end of the World Cup semi-final football match Germany vs. Spain on July 7 in Durban. Spain defeated Germany 1-0.
And wither apartheid? I'd done plenty of homework before heading to South Africa, which left me wondering whether 16 years after the first multi-racial elections, the post-apartheid euphoria was wearing off? Racial inequality remains stark, corruption is rife, going to the heart of the ruling African National Congress (ANC). I wondered whether the dreams of the rainbow nation were beginning to fade.
But there too I found encouragement on the road to Rustenburg, the world's platinum capital. The fast-growing city sits on enormous riches, but is surrounded by townships, some with only the most basic facilities.
But close to the city's soccer stadium, on the outskirts of town, simple dwellings had been turned by their entrepreneurial owners into bars and cafes, packed with soccer fans, old young, black and white, some waiting for the game, others packed around television sets in crowded living rooms.
A young white South African couple told me it was the first time they'd been into a township and eaten "township food."
"The World Cup is really bringing South Africans together," they gushed.
You heard that so often, it almost became a cliché. But it also appears to be true.
One columnist in today's Mail & Guardian, a leading South African paper, said the World Club has brought a "social revolution." He said nobody expected the World Cup to trigger such "an outpouring of nationalistic fervor, or touch as many people from the country's many different race groups."
And that's certainly the way it felt as we were immersed in a noisy, friendly and multi-racial exuberance – from shops and taxis to bars, restaurants and the vast fan zones set up to view the games.
There was another lesson, too, on that Rustenburg road.
We'd spent an earlier night at a sprawling guest house, "just up the road." It turned out to be an hour and a half out of town, and was run by a white Afrikaner couple.
They were perfectly polite, but just off their dining room they had built what can best be described as a shrine to apartheid. It included the old apartheid-era flag and a big portrait of Hendrik Verwoerd, the man often described as the "architect of apartheid."
I was worried this would offend Gu Gu, our black South African coordinator, or our (black) driver Colin. Although I learned later that their biggest worry had been that it might offend me.
It wasn't that they didn't care, they just found it rather quaint – and ultimately irrelevant.
They were more amused than angry. They, and their South Africa, have moved on. And in their own way Gu Gu and Colin represented the confident new face of post-apartheid South Africa, that is increasingly asserting itself, proud that its children are growing up largely colorblind.
There's speculation that Nelson Mandela, credited with bringing the World Cup to South Africa, may attend Sunday’s final. He wasn't able to be at the opening game because the tragic death in a car accident of his great granddaughter.
For millions of South Africans, of all races, that would be a fairytale ending to a great World Cup.
Nobody I met is minimizing the challenges facing South Africa, but for all that, there is an enormous desire to make post-apartheid South Africa work. And hosting the biggest sports event on the planet has enabled South Africans of all races and backgrounds to proclaim that loudly to the world.
LONDON – While most English fans have slunk away after England's humiliation at the hands of Germany, and American fans have probably gone on safari to drown their sorrowsafter Ghana defeated Team USA, Dutch fans are still cheering and are left as one of the most visible and vocal support groups in South Africa.
Dutch soccer fans celebrate after the FIFA World Cup 2010 Round of 16 soccer match between the Netherlands and Slovakia in Durban, South Africa, on June 28.
Dutch airlines scheduled extra flights after the team reached the quarterfinals. Many fans have been camping on special camp sites, traveling from stadium to stadium in a large convoy. It's hard to miss the orange cars full of fans dressed in orange wigs, shirts, hats, boas and outrageous costumes.
"There's a fantastic atmosphere here at the campsite. It's all Dutch people and we march together to the stadiums," a 25-year-old airline employee who was camping with three friends told a Reuters reporter. "Nobody cares about how you look, it's all very relaxed."
But earlier in the tournament, the orange outfits got some fans into trouble with FIFA when a group of 36 Dutchand South Africangirls showed up at the Netherlands-Denmark game wearing orange body-clinging dresses. FIFA officials suspected an ambush marketing ploy and had the girls rapidly removed from the stadiumand kept in a room where, according to one of thegirls, FIFA officials threatened them with six months imprisonment.
The real culprit turned out to be a Dutch a beer brewer called Bavaria. When I was visiting Holland in weeks leading to the World Cup you could buy a six pack of Bavaria beer and get a free orange dress.
My niece, a tall, blond 19-year-old, had gotten one and loved it. It had a tiny blue tag in the side seam with the Bavaria logo. Little did my niece realize that by wearing the dress she would become a walkingadvertisement for the beer company.
Whatever the controversy over the beer company's guerrilla marketing campaign, it won't ruin the enjoyment of the Dutch fans in South Africa, who are having the time of their lives and confident that their team has a good chance to defeat Brazil.
But if their team is defeated, they'll take their orange campers and caravans on the South African roads and enjoy the stunning scenery. "We are getting to see so much of the country," a 25-year-old student dressed in a Dutch milk-maid's outfit told onereporter. "It's really wonderful!"
After all, South Africa is athecountry which their forefathers settled in the 17th century as a trading post on the long sea journey to Indonesia and the Far East,and where Afrikaners speak a language they can almost understand.
JOHANNESBURG – While the world’s soccer stars have been wowing fans on the field, off the pitch, politicians and former presidents have been doing their own fancy footwork – to try to win bids to host the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.
A who’s who list of politicians, billionaires, sports icons and royalty from all over the world have been visiting South Africa to pitch their respective countries for hosting privileges (and, of course, take in some World Cup action).
Photo by Phil Cole/Getty Images
Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Vice President Joe Biden attend the 2010 FIFA World Cup opening match between South Africa and Mexico on June 11 in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Among the bidders is the U.S., which hosted the contest in 1994. Since applications began in January 2009, 11 bids representing 13 countries (Belgium/Netherlands and Spain/Portugal offered joint bids) have announced. Two of those countries, Mexico and Indonesia, have since pulled out.
Bidding for the World Cup is a long, cumbersome process and the competition is fierce. Though some South Africans question the value of hosting the event, the staggering economic benefit – "revenue like 12 Super Bowls" as one American newspaper put it – is enough to draw strong interest from almost any country.
A study commissioned by the USA Bid Committee found that the World Cup could potentially bring the 12 suggested American host cities anywhere from $400 to $600 million each and create a total of 65,000 to 100,000 new jobs.
Star spangled support Since the U.S. bid was announced back in 2007, it has been strengthened by the support of prominent politicians such as Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. President Barack Obama even invited FIFA president Sepp Blatter to the White House last July to lend his support for the U.S. bid, reportedly reminiscing about playing soccer as a boy in Indonesia.
Hollywood heavyweights Brad Pitt, Spike Lee, Morgan Freeman and sports greats Oscar De La Hoya, Mia Hamm and current U.S. team star Landon Donovan have also lent their names and time to the cause.
Vice President Joe Biden launched America’s high profile wooing in South Africa earlier this month when he met with Blatter while attending the opening ceremony and America’s first match, against England.
"About 25 million Americans are playing soccer. Eighty percent of those folks are young kids, which means it's only going to grow in the United States," said Biden on the official U.S. Bid Committee’s website. "I'm hopeful that we have a real clear shot then by the end of this year we’re going to be picked as the site for one of the next World Cups."
And former President Bill Clinton made ripples both here and back in the U.S. when he joined the American team for a post victory locker room Budweiser. Much of his time here has been spent lobbying for the World Cup in his role as honorary chairman for the U.S. Bid Committee. He has even extended his visit to watch the U.S. play Ghana on Saturday.
Former President Bill Clinton celebrates the U.S. World Cup victory over Algeria with American player Carlos Bocanegra. The photo originally appeared on Bocanegra's Facebook page.
After the headaches involved in preparing South Africa and Brazil (the 2014 host) – two countries initially lacking the infrastructure required to host the World Cup – many believe FIFA is looking for a country that already has many of the stadiums and logistical foundations in place, a qualification that Clinton believes makes the U.S. a favorite.
"It's good for us, actually because we won't have to spend a fortune to get ready for it," said Clinton at a press conference here earlier this week.
The U.S. bid has been buoyed by Major League Soccer’s growing popularity and a strong legacy from when it hosted the 1994 Cup, which drew over 3.5 million spectators and average match attendance of 68,991.
Strong competition from Europe The U.S. bid faces most competition from Europe, with many insiders believing a European country will win the 2018 bid, leaving 2022 to the Americans. In particular, the English and Russian bids have come to the forefront, especially after Blatter allegedly said that joint bids would not be viewed as favorably as single nation ones.
The Russians took advantage of the 60 FIFA Congress in Johannesburg earlier this month to make a strong case for Russia’s first World Cup. Representing their delegation were a slew of well-known Russian soccer stars and billionaire Roman Abramovich, who owns one of England’s most prominent teams, Chelsea.
Meanwhile, the English have relied heavily on the charms of global soccer icon David Beckham, who has been here for most of the month promoting the English bid. He was recently joined by Princes William and Harry, who combined a charity-promoting trip to several African countries with a World Cup visit.
Though the royals have been met with great fanfare and delight by FIFA, the all-star cast has been forced to smooth over several scandals that have rocked the English Organizing Committee as of late. Nevertheless, many believe that with a strong soccer infrastructure in place already thanks to its lucrative Premier League, the English bid represents the strongest technical bid in its class.
As reviled as the vuvuzela may be in the rest of the world, for journalists here in South Africa, these maligned instruments are often a handy herald of events just happened.
We were at Pretoria’s Eersterust Stadium today watching the U.S. team’s final training before its Wednesday clash against Algeria when the area surrounding the stadium was enveloped in the loud, excited groan of vuvuzelas.
A fast-typing, Blackberry-equipped reporter barked out the news: “South Africa scored! ‘Bafana Bafana’ 1, France 0.”
Rushing out of the stadium to find a place to watch the game and soak up the atmosphere of South Africa’s do-or-die match against France, vuvuzelas and car horns erupted again as our driver yelled out jubilantly, “Bafana Bafana 2, France 0, the impossible is happening!”
At a nearby restaurant awash in fans dressed in yellow jerseys and South African flags, we watched on edge of seat as South Africa battled to the brink of qualification for a slot in the “Round of 16” – a feat every World Cup hosting nation has accomplished in the tournament’s 80-year history.
In the odd calculus that is World Cup Group standings, South Africa needed to defeat the 1998* World Cup champions, France, by at least three goals and have the other group game between Mexico and Uruguay not end in a draw in order to ensure safe passage to the next round.
The various mechanisms in motion led to an at times curious, albeit confusing, melange of sounds in the crowded bar as some fans kept a radio tuned to a station that was switching every five minutes between coverage of the South Africa and Mexico matches. Fans intermittently cheered every South African strike on goal, booed each perceived French foul not called and willed both Mexico and Uruguay to score first, which Uruguay finally obliged to the relief of 48 million South Africans in the 43rd minute.
South Africa’s hopes took a hit when the French found the net in the 70th minute and were finally dashed when the final whistle blew, the nation's team two goals shy of the magic number needed for advancement. A mixture of polite applause and glum looks filled the dining room floor as fans took stock of how Bafana Bafana had failed and succeeded:
Though eliminated from the tournament, “The Boys” had also come up with their first victory ever against a once-dominant soccer nation like France.
Unpredictability name of the game It is a fate that many other traditional soccer powerhouses now fear as the final days of group play begin. Like France, both defending champion Italy and traditional powerhouse England find themselves in the unfamiliar position of having to win their last group game to proceed to the next round.
In particular, England, wrought with controversy and outright mutiny, faces a similar fate met by the French on tomorrow night in their critical final match against Slovenia, as once loyal fans turn on them and the excuses increasingly get more ridiculous.
It is the curious state of affairs in this World Cup that has created a feeling of uncertainty for soccer fans not seen in sometime.
Prior to today’s start of the final matches of group play, it was noted that of the eight teams on the top of their respective groups, half of them could conceivably not be one of the top two teams in their pool and thus eliminated from the tournament.
Meanwhile, a gritty U.S. squad will find itself looking up and to its side in the standings tomorrow afternoon when it faces Algeria in another make-or-break match. Like the English, the Americans need to beat a winless, but plucky Algerian team to ensure its place in the second round.
In an interview with NBC News yesterday, star striker Landon Donovan spoke about the mood of the team in the lead-up to the big match, saying, “The team is happy and relaxed. I think everybody is excited for Wednesday night.”
“We feel like we can still play better, which is good to know, and we have one game to advance in a World Cup and that’s really special.”
*This post originally had France as the 2002 World Cup winner, they won in 1998.
JOHANNESBURG – I was sitting in a restaurant in Nelson Mandela Square, in Johannesburg's upscale Sandton district, when the crowd outside was parted by a phalanx of beefy, humorless security men, making way for a balding man in a suit, grinning from ear to ear.
At first I wondered whether it was one of the many heads of state that have graced the World Cup, perhaps one of the less glamorous international royals.
But no, this was a man who during this soccer month is much more powerful than any of them: Sepp Blatter, the head of the empire called FIFA, the organizer of the competition. And for many people here that is beginning to rankle.
One newspaper columnist this week called him a "traveling despot." Others have attacked what they call FIFA's "avarice and crass commercialism."
FIFA considered the display to be ambush advertising, and they were removed from the stadium. Two were later arrested. The logo of the brewer was hardly visible, but that didn't seem to matter.
The charges have now been dropped, but the irony is that the arrests have given the beer company more publicity than they could ever have imagined, prompting the president of the company to write to Blatter thanking him for the free and effective advertising.
Earlier this year, a local low-cost airline was forced to withdraw an advertising campaign that boasted it was the "unofficial National Carrier of the You-Know-What."
FIFA derives vast sums of money – over a billion dollars by some estimates – from marketing and advertising rights, and aggressively pursues anybody who tries to associate themselves with the World Cup without paying.
Which I guess is fair enough, up to a point. But FIFA is so vigorous that – as with the beer girls – its efforts to control things become silly and counter-productive.
Most annoying for me is the sheer in-your-face, FIFA-promoted crass commercialism that surrounds much of the World Cup.
I was at a fan park in Rustenburg the other day, watching the U.S.-England game. The park and all its tents were decked out in the red of Coca-Cola, one of the biggest of the World Cup sponsors, who has the exclusive right to sell soft drinks in FIFA venues.
Before the game, and at the break, an announcer paced along the large stage with thumping music. "When I say Coca, you say ….." To which the large crown of mostly township kids was supposed to respond "Cola!"
This went on and on to the point that I just wanted to walk into one of those red tents and demand a Pepsi. But I wasn’t sure Mr. Blatter would see the funny side of that.
Wayne Rooney of England speaks to a cameraman as he walks off the field following his team's 0-0 tie with Algeria.
From England to France to Spain, the pressure of playing the most popular sport in the world on its biggest stage apparently is taking its toll on some the best players and nations as the tournament enters only its second week.
As reported by The Associated Press and Reuters:
England Following the team’s surprisingly lackluster 0-0 tie with Algeria on Friday night, an English fan eluded security, invaded the team's changing room and fired off a derogatory insult at superstar David Beckham before walking out.
Ten minutes earlier, British royals Princes William and Harry had been in the rooms visiting the players.
"Luckily it was after the princes had left, 10 minutes after," said Beckham, the former England captain who is not playing as he rehabilitates from an Achilles tendon injury.
"Obviously it has been blown out of proportion. The actual fan literally just walked in very casually and just said something to me and then walked out. There was no scuffle, there was no aggression at all. He didn't comment on the performance."
During the game, English star Wayne Rooney – who has failed to score in seven straight games – blasted many of the 25,000 England fans who jeered the players, telling a TV camera, "It's nice to see your own fans booing you."
Rooney later apologized for the outburst.
English media have been even tougher on the team, which in its first match tied the United States 1-1 and now is in danger of not even reaching the next round despite being among the favorites to advance far into the tournament.
The tabloid Sun, never a publication to pull its punches, let rip with a variation of a famous Winston Churchill quotation from World War II on its back page.
"Never in the field of World Cup conflict has so little been offered by so few to so many," thundered its headline above a photograph of England's players shuffling off the pitch Friday after a performance in Cape Town that ruined World Cup parties across England.
"Rooney in a rage ... his team in a stew," said Matt Dickinson in The Times. "No wonder you were booed off Rooney," added a headline in The Sun.
"Toothless Three Lions limp to a bore draw ... and stand on brink of early exit" said the Daily Mail.
"Woeful England at point of no return," said The Times which used a full page photo of midfielder Frank Lampard apparently biting his nails on the front page of its sports section with a headline stating: "Be afraid. Be very afraid"
"Cape Fear" claimed The Sun's inside spread alongside a photograph of a raging coach Fabio Capello.
The Daily Telegraph's sport section was headlined "Shambles" while the Guardian's choice of words summed up the mood of the majority of people who watched England on television, "No spark, no spirit, no hope" it said.
The Daily Express simply screamed "Useless!" on its back page.
The Chelsea forward reportedly made obscene comments to Domenech at halftime of France's 2-0 loss to Mexico on Thursday.
Anelka confirmed he had an argument with Domenech — but said that it was meant to stay within the team.
"I indeed had a heated conversation with the coach, but it happened within the confines of the changing rooms, between the coach and me, in front of my teammates and the staff," Anelka told the website of France Soir newspaper. "That should never have come out of the changing rooms. I don't know who can benefit from that, but repeating these kind of things certainly doesn't help (the team)."
The episode is another blow to a French team that made the World Cup finals in 2006 but is on the verge of being eliminated from the 2010 tournament after a listless draw with Uruguay and the Mexico loss.
Casillas, who is in a relationship with Sara Carbonero, a Telecinco reporter covering the World Cup, was criticized for allowing Switzerland to score the only goal in Spain’s 1-0 loss on Wednesday.
He had to explain himself in a live interview with Carbonero immediately after the match, and the defeat prompted a British newspaper to suggest her presence at games was a distraction for the Spain captain.
For Koman Coulibaly’s sake, I hope he isn’t a social media fan, because in the court of online opinion, he has been tried and convicted.
It has been a rude introduction to the relentless, often brutal global online community for Coulibaly, the hapless referee from Mali who today became public enemy number one for American fans in Johannesburg’s Ellis Park Stadium due to his often dubious officiating in an unlikely U.S. vs. Slovenia draw.
The game, which was on course to become one of the greatest American comebacks in World Cup history - no team has ever come back from a 2-0 deficit at halftime to win – ended instead with a 2-2 tie after what appeared to be a go-ahead goal in the 84th minute by American midfielder Maurice Edu off a Landon Donovan free kick was disallowed by Coulibaly.
According to the official FIFA game log, a transgression by Edu earlier in the play disallowed the goal. But for thousands of in the stands and millions of people watching around the world, the apparent foul appeared to be a phantom call.
The result was still good enough to make this U.S. squad only the fifth team to ever come back and tie from such a deficit. But it’s well short of the expectations of fans who believe they watched Edu score and give the Americans their first-ever World Cup victory against a Central European team.
Not surprisingly then, the online backlash amongst World Cup fans around the world has been swift and merciless.
The unlucky referee from Mali quickly became the top trending subject on the popular digital social media, with 87 new tweets alone in the time it took to type these first two sentences.
“Rumour has it BP paid off idiot referee Koman Coulibaly to distract everyone from the oil spill!” guffawed one tweeter. “Unlike Malian #worldcup ref Koman Coulibaly, at least USA has a shot at making the knockout stage. It was fun while it lasted huh Koman?” wrote another German fan, smarting from his country's own officiating disaster.
On popular online encyclopaedia Wikipedia, Coulibaly’s page was altered 250-plus times – including one unfortunate comparison to BP CEO, Tony Hayward – before it was finally locked. Meanwhile, on Facebook there were more than 120 new groups expressing their outrage, ranging from the relatively tactful “Fire Koman Coulibaly” to the ironic, “Koman Coulibaly Fan Club”
'We were robbed!' Not surprisingly, the mood back in Johannesburg was equally sour as American fans exited the stadium.
“3-1! 3-1! 3-1! We were robbed!” was the line by many fans – referring not only to the blown Edu call, but another perceived Coulibaly mistake on the 41st-minute goal by Slovenian Zlatan Ljubijankic, whom many fans in the stands thought was offsides.
“We were in the front row, we won that game,” called out one American fan as he walked sullenly out of the stadium, “I went into tears, I couldn’t believe it – that was our goal!”
Another dejected U.S. supporter said: “At the end of the day, all you can ask for is for the referees to call it right. If you aren’t sure, don’t call offsides.”
Those sentiments were echoed by many of the U.S. players who were still awaiting an official explanation for the disallowed goal. "I'm a little gutted to be honest," said star striker Donovan. "I don't know how they stole that last goal from us. I'm not sure what the call was. He (the referee) wouldn't tell us what the call was."
Said Bob Bradley, "I still don't know why the goal was disallowed.”
FIFA will have a tough time explaining the ruling on the field, especially as replays now seem to show Slovenian players committing fouls on American players. In the meantime, expect poor Koman Coulibaly to remain the most unpopular man in the digital world.