In the immediate aftermath of Friday’s Final Draw, diplomacy reigned in Cape Town. The coaches were the first to speak, after all, and dutifully avoided handing their opponents motivational nuggets by relying on well-worn phrases about “respect” and “not underestimating anyone”.
The journalists from these same countries had no need for such careful, tactful language, however, and would go on to reflect the national moods in the days that followed.
The Sun sets the tone
"We talked ourselves up too much. Never again. In future tournaments we must learn to be humble. Be calm." These the words of Steven Gerrard, reflecting on Germany 2006 and England’s legendary propensity for over-hyping their national team. So, what was the reaction to the draw for 2010? Humble? Calm? The front page of the top-selling Sun newspaper offered a clue, spelling out the group in a headline that summed up the English view on Group C:
This assessment did not go unnoticed, especially across the Atlantic, where the Los Angeles Times described the offending English newspaper as “scurrilous”. But it wasn’t all indignation. The Washington Times, for example, reflected on “a very favorable draw for the US - certainly not the feared group of death.”
Nearly everyone in Group C appeared bullish about their chances, in fact. Algerian newspaper Al Khabar wrote of Les Fennecs having “a huge chance” to advance, “maybe even at the top of the group”. There was confidence elsewhere in Africa too, with Nigeria’s Vanguard quoting Kashimawo Laloko, a former national technical director, describing Group A as “easy”.
The section’s top seeds, Argentina, shared this optimism. Diario Deportivo Olé encapsulated the sense of satisfaction, pointing out that, instead of landing in "El grupo de la muerte" (the group of death) - as they had in 2002 and 2006 - La Albiceleste had been handed "El grupo de la suerte" (the group of luck). Reaction in Greece was more muted, with Greeksoccer.com reflecting on the “uncanny irony” of being reunited with Argentina and Nigeria, two of the teams who ensured a miserable FIFA World Cup debut for their side at USA 1994. In Korea Republic, United News also looked to the past, recalling in the article “Huh Jung-Moo resumes rivalry with Maradona” that their national coach performed a brutal man-marking job on his Argentina counterpart in the teams’ Mexico 1986 opener.
Delight and defiance
Historic factors also added intrigue to, arguably, South Africa 2010’s toughest section: Group G. Dunga bucked the diplomatic trend by describing his side’s meeting with Portugal as “Brazil versus Brazil B”, while drawing Korea DPR naturally evoked memories of England 1966, Eusebio and that famous 5-3 win for the Portuguese press. Côte d’Ivoire’s media generally shared their coach’s assessment that the draw had been “terrible”, but expressed belief in Les Elephants’ ability to upset the odds.
The reaction in Brazil was generally cautious, but O Globo still looked forward to “a new experience” against teams “with barely any World Cup history", while Placar suggested Dunga’s side “are not in the position to feel like it’s extremely difficult to go through”. There was also a note of defiance sounded by Choson Sinbo, a pro-Korea DPR newspaper based in Japan. Citing the memory of 1966, it wrote: "Nothing is impossible for those who have strong will. The stage is set for [North] Korean football to create another legend."
Group D, the other main candidate for the ‘Group of Death’ tag, also provoked some mixed reactions. GhanaWeb conceded that the Black Stars “face a difficult first round”, while Serbian newspaper Alo made a bold prediction: "Ghana and Serbia ahead of the Germans". Australia’s press were more measured, with the Sydney Morning Herald describing the section as “a severe test, but not impossible”, while The Age reflected that the Socceroos “had been done few favours”.
Germany, meanwhile, seems to have no idea what to make of the draw. Typifying the divided opinion were the differing views of two leading newspapers, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung and Frankfurter Rundschau, on their coach’s demeanour, with the former describing Joachim Low as “not looking happy” and the latter painting him as “extremely relaxed”.
Spain wary, hosts praised
There was a mixed reaction in Spain too, but for very different reasons. Nearly everyone was happy with a group that included Switzerland, Chile and Honduras, but Marca, the nation’s top sports newspaper, described as “diabolical” the prospect of facing Brazil, Portugal or Côte d’Ivoire in the last 16. Catalonia-based Sport elaborated on this sense of unease: “Just remember the easy way through the group phase in 2006 before Spain sank in round of 16 against France... Reason to tremble, or at least be cautious.”
Elsewhere, Italy’s Gazzetta dello Sport used its main headline to repeat Marcello Lippi’s plea: “Don’t say it’s easy, please.” The Italian press have not, however, been as downbeat as their coach, and were clear on the fact that Gli Azzurri will have no excuses for not topping Group F ahead of Paraguay, Slovakia and New Zealand. The Kiwis, South Africa 2010’s great underdogs, were far from unhappy themselves, with the New Zealand Herald leading with the headline: “All Whites’ dream draw.”
Media representatives from the Netherlands, Denmark, Cameroon and Japan, meanwhile, were left to look ahead to one of the tournament’s most evenly-balanced sections. Understandably, the Dutch were most confident, while the Japanese appeared most pessimistic, the Daily Yomiuri suggesting Takeshi Okada’s side “will have their work cut out” qualifying from Group E.
Last but far from least, hosts South Africa faced up to another unpredictable section, one described as “the draw from Hell” by Pretoria News and “a monster draw” by the Saturday Argus. Their opponents, by contrast, seemed encouraged, with L’Equipe suggesting France had been dealt a “lucky hand” and Mexico’s Record newspaper enthusing about the “joy” of competing in the opening match.
The Final Draw itself also drew plaudits from the press. South Africa’s Sunday Times led with the headline “SA dazzles the World”, while Britain's Times heaped praise on “an organised draw”, “a huge street party” and “a great night in South Africa's history”. Everyone will be looking forward to plenty more of those nights in 2010.