With just days to go before the kick-off to South Africa 2010, FIFA World Cup™ fever is beginning to bite. Every four years this competition, which has established itself as the most-followed sporting event on the planet, is eagerly anticipated by millions of people. As well as bringing together football fans the world over, it even attracts those who ordinarily have little or no interest in the game.

Now that the curtain has come down on the majority of national championships around the globe, aficionados in every continent are looking forward to a summer festival of football. Thirty-two teams have earned the honour of taking part in this international extravaganza, raising the hopes of their respective supporters. For some, seeing their country participate in the FIFA World Cup is an event in itself, an achievement which all of the players, coaching staff and everyone involved in the competition can take special pride in, as they prepare to contribute to their country’s footballing history.

Of course, I’m sad that my country’s team isn’t taking part, even though they’re without doubt the strongest in Africa as well as in the Arab world. Having said that, I hope Algeria do well and reach the second round at least.

Egyptian fan Mohamed Abdel Raouf

But what of the supporters whose national side didn’t make it to the finals? Will they treat this competition like any other, if only to catch a glimpse of the stars who they regularly see strutting their stuff in the various national championships throughout the year? Far from it, because the excitement generated by FIFA’s flagship tournament is not limited to the 32 participating countries. In fact every other nation on the planet will be following the competition with keen interest, even if their team is not one of the select few.

In the Arab world, supporters are already proudly expressing their preference for one team or another. The majority generally tends to favour those countries which have already won a FIFA World Cup, such as Brazil, Argentina, Italy, Germany and England. Owing to increasingly pervasive television coverage, this most prestigious of competitions is becoming more and more important to people in Arab countries. For the duration of the FIFA World Cup, fans abandon their local allegiances and devote their full attention to their preferred national team.

Ahmed Abou Ata is Jordanian, but he will become a Canarinha fan while the tournament is in full swing. "My team are the Seleção. I’m sure that they’re going to win the World Cup again. There’s a great togetherness about the squad," he said. Although Abou Ata watches most of the games at home, for those fixtures which are given top billing he prefers to meet up with his friends at his local café, where the atmosphere generally rivals that at the match venue itself. Opportunities like this are too rare to miss out on.

The Arab world is passionate about the FIFA World Cup and may even be given the chance to organise it if Qatar is chosen to stage the 2022 finals. Match schedules are an ever-present sight during the month of the competition. While the games featuring the big names attract the most people to the nearest television screen, there is also interest in the fixtures between outsiders that have impressed during qualification. Some fans believe that every encounter deserves to be watched, no matter which teams are on the bill.

In the Arab region there are various ways of declaring one’s allegiance to a particular team. Some choose to display their heroes’ livery from the window or rooftop of their home, while others decorate their car for the event, or don a football shirt emblazoned with the name of their idol on match days. Lebanese fans are particularly inclined to nail their colours to the mast. In the run-up to the FIFA’s flagship competition, boulevards and buildings throughout the country of the Cedar are routinely decorated with the flags of Brazil, Germany or Italy, which are on sale everywhere.

Egyptian fan Mohamed Abdel Raouf is eager for the festivities to begin, despite his side’s absence from the tournament: “It’s fantastic to be able to follow the World Cup because it’s hands down the most important sporting event," he said. "Of course, I’m sad that my country’s team isn’t taking part, even though they’re without doubt the strongest in Africa as well as in the Arab world. Having said that, I hope Algeria do well and reach the second round at least.

“In Cairo, people meet up with their mates at the café,” he continued. “We talk about the match before it starts, then once it gets underway we don’t miss a kick, cheering every goal right until the final whistle. Afterwards, we launch into the post-match analysis.”

Fennecs fly the flag
Algeria will be the sole representative of the Arab world at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa. Despite some people’s penchant for the tournament frontrunners, the entire region will be united behind the sole Arab contenders, in the hope that they can make their mark by reaching the second round.

Rafik Bouchlaka, a tennis instructor in Tunisia, prefers to back Arab teams during the FIFA World Cup. He explains that this year, fate has determined that Algeria will be the sole standard-bearer for the Arab world and, as a result, Les Fennecs will be under the spotlight. “I also watch the African teams, especially Cameroon, who have distinguished themselves in almost every one of their finals campaigns,” he added. “This year they can stake a claim for a place in the second round, or even the quarter-finals.”

For one month, the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa will capture the attention of the whole planet, including the Arab world. Every country in the region shares the same passion for the game and for this planetary event, which is only celebrated once every four years. We can only wait to see what impressions it leaves in the memory, once the winners of the coveted Trophy are revealed.