A is for Africa as the continent prepares to host the World Cup finals for the first time ever amid all sorts of scare stories about half ready stadia, soaring crime against tourists and bizarre claims from England that Spain will try to bribe referees! Just another mad month in the wacky world of FIFA president Sepp Blater.
B is for Brazil, the World Cup masters who have won the tournament more than any other country and could and should do so again when Kaka, et al, set about the challenge of qualifying for the July 11 final in Soccer City. Don’t bet against them.
C is for the cable car which climbs to the top of an expansive arch at the spanking Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban, some 106 meters above a pitch that will play host to the likes of Germany, Australia, Spain, Switzerland, Holland, Japan, Nigeria, Korea, Brazil and Portugal during the group stages.
D is for Diego Maradona, the World Cup legend who has made headlines for all the right reasons and for all the wrong reasons at every tournament he has been involved in. This one promises to be no different for the Argentinean manager and former World Cup winner who does have Lionel Messi available to him.
E is for England. Love them or hate them, we won’t be able to stop talking about them for the next month, and there’s a good chance we’ll have a laugh at their expense as well. It’s started already with the loss of captain Rio Ferdinand to a knee injury the day after they arrived in South Africa. You’re always guaranteed a laugh at England’s expense in a World Cup finals.
F is for France, the new England as far as Irish fans are concerned after Thierry Henry’s blatant cheating qualified them for the World Cup finals at Ireland’s expense. They’ve got an easy group, but we’ll all be shouting for Uruguay, Mexico and South Africa. In fact we’ll be shouting for ABF -- Anyone But France. The t-shirts are already selling like hotcakes in clothes stores all across Ireland.
G is for goals, and no prizes are awarded for guessing that Brazil have scored more World Cup goals than anyone else. In 19 tournaments they have hit the old onion sack as Jimmy Magee calls it on 201 occasions, and have won the title five times in the process. Germany (190 goals) and Italy (122) are next up.
H is for Martin Hansson, the Swedish referee who will be in South Africa when the Irish team he robbed in Paris last November will be watching the World Cup finals from their holiday boltholes. According to the FIFA website, Hansson is a family man who “likes to instil manners and values in his children so they can do the best with lives.” Indeed.
I is for the Ivory Coast or the Elephants as they like to known. Sven Goran Eriksson’s team will be fancied to do well in these finals, even allowing for the fact that Eriksson is their manager and they must compete with Brazil, Portugal and North Korea in the Group of Death. The arm injury suffered by Didier Drogba on the eve of the tournament mightn’t do them any favors, however.
J is for Jabulani, the official adidas ball for the 2010 World Cup finals. The first official ball was the 32 black and white panel Telstar introduced in 1970 to aid television coverage -- on black and white screens. Since then we’ve seen the Tango, the Azteca, the Etrusco, the Questra, the Tricolore, the Fevernova and the Teamgeist. The goalkeepers don’t like the new ball by the way. They never do.
K is for Korea, so good they qualified twice. South Korea are well known to us after our own exploits as they made it all the way to the semifinals as hosts in 2002, but North Korea will also feature on the World Cup finals stage for the first time since the English took them to their hearts in 1966. It’s the first time the two Koreas have qualified.
L is for Laduma, the Zulu word for goal that will become a common phrase for commentators from all over the world over the next five weeks. Literally translated, it means “it thunders,” and the phrase was popularised by the veteran Zulu commentator Zama Mosondo.
M is for microblogging and the Twitter and Facebook websites which are so popular yet controversial these days that the English and Spanish players have been banned from using them by managers Fabio Capello and Vicente del Bosque while they are on World Cup duty in South Africa. Other coaches may well follow suit.
N is for Siphiwo Ntshebe, the South African opera singer who was set to become this World Cup’s Pavarotti, but unfortunately died tragically and suddenly last week before he could get to sing to a massive worldwide audience at the Jo’Burg opening ceremony.
O is for Oke, not a saying that goes with dokey, but the Afrikaan’s word for bloke or guy, a term of endearment if the local whites take to you apparently. So if someone tells you you’re an “Ok Oke” that’s okay.
P is for pitch guru Richard Hayden, the Irishman charged with making sure the grass is in fact greener in South Africa at this summer’s finals. Hayden, a Kilkenny native, has been leading the 10 strong Sports Turf Research Institute team appointed by FIFA to ensure that all pitches reach the required standard. His team have also worked at the likes of the new Aviva Stadium and Croke Park.
Q is for Quaggas, a now extinct bunch of Zebras who once inhabited the Cape but were hunted out by British settlers in the 1800s before Michael Caine met the Zulus. If a South African tells you that you’re seeing Quaggas, he means you’re watching pigs fly.
R is for TV ratings. The World Cup is by far the biggest TV event on planet Earth. Four years ago the tournament in Germany attracted a global audience of 26 billion for the 64 matches. Less than five billion viewers worldwide watched the Beijing Olympics.
S is for the South Africa team in grave danger of becoming the first host team in the history of the competition to exit the World Cup at the group stage. They face Uruguay, Mexico and then France in Group A and have little hope of reaching the last 16, not even with the great Everton player and Manchester United target Steven Pienaar in their squad.
T is for trophy. The FIFA World Cup trophy is a challenge cup that remains in the permanent possession of FIFA, and the current edition was first produced for the 1974 finals in Germany. It is 36.8cm high and weighs 6.175 kilograms. Only World Cup winners, like our own coach Marco Tardelli, are allowed to touch it.
U is for the U.S., which will be looking to build on a decent Confederation’s Cup in South Africa last summer and make it to the last 16 at this World Cup finals. If they can beat England and repeat their 1958 heroics in Rustenburg next Saturday night then anything is possible.
V is for Vuvuzela, the long horns that are going to drive you mad with their incessant noise between now and July 11. Folklore claims they were used to call villagers in for tribal meetings centuries ago, but the South Africans say that is open to debate.
W is for the England WAGS (wives and girlfriends) who provided us with so much entertainment at the last World Cup finals in Germany, but have been banned from following their rich and famous husbands to South Africa. I’ll still bet that we’ll see Coleen Rooney and their little Kai on our screens live from Jo’burg over the next five weeks as bit players in Wayne’s World Cup.
X is for Xhosa, South Africa’s second most popular language and the mother tongue of Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu among others. South Africa, by the way, has 11 official languages, including English, Zulu and Afrikaans.
Y is for the youth of Soweto who in 1976 took to the streets in protest at educational reforms forced on them by the ruling Apartheid government. Youth Day on June 16, the date of the Soweto Uprising, will be celebrated during the World Cup, and remembers events regarded as a major turning point in the country’s history.
Z is for Zakumi, the South African lion who will act as official mascot for the 2010 finals. Mascots first arrived on the World Cup scene with Willie the Lion at the 1966 event in England, and since then we’ve had everything from Juanito in Mexico in 1970 to Goleo, the lion, at Germany 2006.