A throng of adoring football fans more than 10,000-strong gathered last weekend in the north-western Slovakian city of Zilina to enjoy a rare close-up view of the one of the world’s most recognised sport symbols.
In front of the huge audience assembled in Zilina’s main square, Jan Mucha, Slovakia’s national team goalkeeper unveiled the FIFA World Cup™ Trophy to excited onlookers. "Of course the World Cup is going to be the highlight of my career," said the Poland-based player, getting set to line up between the posts for Slovakia in their first-ever world finals. "Winning the World Cup is every footballer’s dream. It’s amazing to be this close to the trophy. I didn’t fully appreciate so far what it means for fans that Slovakia qualified for the World Cup. But I understand it today. We can’t fail them in South Africa," said the Legia Warsaw net-minder after the climax of the emotional event.
"Bring the trophy back!," chanted excited fans in the square, showing their hopes and dreams for their beloved team. "Our ambition in South Africa is to reach the second round," added national coach Vladimir Weiss to FIFA.com, and to the delight of the gathered revellers.
An endless procession of footballing icons, politicians and other celebrities seized the opportunity to be photographed together with football's 'Holy Grail.' Slovakia's qualification for this year's FIFA World Cup signals the first time that the country will take part in football's flagship tournament as an independent nation. And the only person allowed the chance to hold the trophy in Slovakia was President Ivan Gasparovic, who commented "Holding the trophy I had a dream of our players raising this golden icon. The fact that the FIFA World Cup Trophy has come to Slovakia is an opportunity to reconnect the dream with the nation’s football ambitions and to believe that dreams can come true."
Tough act to follow
The party then moved on to nearby Slovenia, the latest member of the global football family to have the privilege to welcome the trophy on its path to South Africa. The trophy landed at Brnik airport in Ljubljana on a sunny Sunday afternoon. The special Coca-Cola airplane, which ferries the little golden idol around the globe, was greeted on its arrival by organisers, special guest speakers and journalists. The trophy was unveiled by Uroš Kanduc, CEO of Coca-Cola Slovenia and Ivan Simic, president of the Football Association of Slovenia. "To be among 32 of the best football teams in the world is a great honour for us and definitely a big acknowledgement and promotion for our country. I am very happy at this moment."
Former Slovenian international Brane Oblak, who represented Yugoslavia at the 1974 finals in West Germany, was on hand as the trophy made its debut in Ljubljana. "I can’t compare today’s emotion with the match against Brazil [at West Germany 1974], but both are wonderful," said the Slovenian hero.