The Rainbow nation is set to stage the showpiece event in the football calendar with some of the game’s most dazzling players set to take centre stage.
The names of the famous footballers set to star in the forthcoming World Cup in South Africa run off the tip of your tongue: Kaka, Lionel Messi, Wayne Rooney, Michael Ballack, Steven Gerrard, Fernando Torres and Didier Drogba.
Talking of African football, the most illustrious footballer to participate in the World Cup, Brazilian Pele, claimed that within ten years an African nation would win the World Cup. That prophecy however has long since been outdated.
Flying The Flag For Islam
Many of the nations in South Africa 2010 have players who have reverted to Islam or were born into the great religion. Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Algeria and to an extent France have the most numbers of players who are practising Muslims.
Currently, the most up to date reports from an American think-tank and PBS have estimated 1.2 to 1.57 billion Muslims populate the world, which is about 25% of an estimated 2009 world population of 6.8 billion. With 60% living in Asia and 20% of Muslims living in the Middle East and North Africa.
In that respect the evolution of Muslims footballers plying their trade at some of the biggest clubs in the world is no surprise. The rise of players playing at Barcelona, Inter Milan and Arsenal is an indication of the impact Muslim footballers have made at the domestic level, yet they have not really cracked it at international level.
The last player who cracked it at domestic and international level was France international Zinedine Zidane. He played for some of the most famous teams in the world and also cracked it up at international level. He was the driving force behind France’s 1998 World cup win and also Euro 2000 where he embedded himself into footballing folklore. His skills, grace, and pure class captivated audiences for years. Overall in his illustrious career, Zidane played in 732 games, scoring 144 goals, and creating hundreds more. For France he played 108 times, scoring 31 times. His farewell competitive game will always be remembered for the wrong reasons, for he exited world football with the infamous head butt, pounding into the chest of Italian Marco Materazzi. But that should not tarnish a glittering career - a three-time World Player of the Year, he will always be remembered as a genius on the football field, and perhaps one of the most graceful players ever.
As always there will be some talented and outstanding players who will miss the tournament. Frederic Kanouté, of FC Seville and Mali is the obvious player who misses out. A devout Muslim, he got into trouble with Spanish FA for his support and allegiance to the cause of Gaza. He was once asked in an interview whether it had been difficult practicing his religion in Spain, such a staunchly Catholic country. Kanouté replied:
“I don't think of how people look at me, I'm just natural and it's my way. Islam has helped me to be this way, so this is something normal. It's a path you take to keep you normal, to keep you calm, to help you think about the place you live in, to love your neighbour and the people you live with. It's strange for me when I hear about all these problems of terrorism because it is the opposite of what I understand of Islam. But it's like this in every religion. We shouldn't focus too much on Islam, because things happen in Christianity and Judaism also.”
Another player set to miss out is Kanouté’s international teammate Seydou Keita. He plays for current Champions League winners Barcelona. An effective attacking midfielder, he has made the midfield position his own alongside Xavi and Andreas Iniesta.
The above highlights the dedication and spirit shown by Muslim footballers who put faith into the Almighty. As Allah (swt) says in the Qur’an: “Remember Me and I will Remember you”. A lesson to us all that we should remember Allah (swt) at all times and He will bring success to us in this life and the HereAfter.
Fabio Capello has rejuvenated England into a well-drilled, organised unit and has the best chance of winning the World Cup since 1966. But can they do it?
As always a triumph can only transpire with the form and fitness of key players in the squad. The team has an abundance of talent in Wayne Rooney, Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard who can lead them to success, but can these players maintain the form that they have demonstrated during the league season?
Wayne Rooney has been on fire this season for Manchester United, literally carrying them to success both at home and abroad. He has the confidence to maintain that form but the big question is can he maintain fitness for the next three months after an exhausting season on the domestic front?
England have the talent and the prowess to get to the finals but without a natural goalscorer alongside Wayne Rooney - what with Michael Owen the only ‘fox-in-the-box’ natural goalscorer England have but who has been discarded by the Italian maestro, and with Steven Gerrard being played out of position under the Capello regime - they will do well to reach the semi-finals.
Who Will Win The World Cup?
As always with a big tournament, the burning question is who will win? Brazil as always are people’s favourites to win the prized trophy with world class players in their ranks such as Kaka, Luis Fabiano and the ‘Galloping Horse’ Lucio, but they have struggled to play the extraordinary football that is associated with Brazilian teams under former world cup winning captain Dunga. However history suggests they should reach the finals, but a semi-final place beckons for four-time winners.
One of the greatest players in the history of the game, Diego Armando Maradona is in charge of Argentina, but they scraped through the qualifying rounds to reach South Africa. However they have the heir apparent to Maradona in Lionel Messi to lead them to world cup glory. The talented striker has had an extraordinary couple of seasons for Barcelona, with Thierry Henry describing his form as ‘ridiculous’, but he has yet to implement that form for the Argentines. A lot will depend on him if they are going to taste success.
The favourites for the World cup have to be Spain on current form. They have world-class players in abundance, who play majestic football as they demonstrated during their European championship success. Everywhere you look in the team, it is filled with world-class players. Iker Cassilas, Carles Puyol, Xavi, Adreas Iniesta, Cesc Fabregas, Xabi Alonso and the goal machines that are David Villa and Fernando Torres. The Spaniards have creativity, flair and two goalscorers that can put the ball into the back of the net with a blink of an eye. If the whole team clicks then I do not think any team in the world can match the prowess of the Spaniards and them adding the World cup to their European triumph.
With so many talented players on show in the Rainbow nation you are spoiled for choice as to who to pick as a fantasy 11 who could win a major tournament. I put myself through this enviable task and picked 11 players who I believe are the best out there.
Do you agree with my selection? Have I missed any players out? And who would be your perfect 11?
- - GK - Gianluca Buffon - Italy
- - RB - Javier Zanetti - Argentina
- - CB - Lucio - Brazil
- - CB - Fabio Cannavaro - Italy
- - LB - Phillip Lahm - Germany
- - RM - Lionel Messi - Argentina
- - CM - Steven Gerrard - England
- - CM - Xavi - Spain
- - LM - Cristiano Ronaldo - Portugal
- - CF - Fernando Torres - Spain
- - CF - Wayne Rooney - England