African cup of joy blemished by attack

JOHANNESBURG Tue Jul 13, 2010 1:22am IST

FIFA President Sepp Blatter gestures the number of times Brazil won the World Cup as he speaks during the launch of the ''Road to Brazil 2014'' and the unveiling of the official emblem at the the Sandton Convention Centre in Johannesburg, July 8, 2010. REUTERS/Radu Sigheti

FIFA President Sepp Blatter gestures the number of times Brazil won the World Cup as he speaks during the launch of the ''Road to Brazil 2014'' and the unveiling of the official emblem at the the Sandton Convention Centre in Johannesburg, July 8, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Radu Sigheti

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - FIFA heaped praise on South Africa on Monday for a successful World Cup that defied the sceptics, but a bloody bomb attack in Uganda was a brutal blemish on the continent's joy.

Spain returned to a heroes' welcome in Madrid, where they met King Juan Carlos before a victory tour around the city, after lifting the trophy for the first time with a last-gasp goal from Andres Iniesta that broke Dutch hearts.

"You are an example for new generations for your effort and the spirit you showed in overcoming the odds," the King, who had been unable to attend the final on doctors' orders after an illness, said in the Royal Palace. "You made our best dreams come true."

Afterwards, the team met Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, who was also unable to make it to Soccer City stadium, before setting off round the streets of the capital in an open-topped bus.

The players wore red T-shirts with "world champions" emblazoned across the front, waved flags, and took photographs and videos of the red-and-yellow sea of fans lining the pavements, while music thumped out from huge speakers.

Spanish media hailed the players as a golden generation who had won by sticking to their classy precision passing despite a ferociously physical Dutch challenge. In the Netherlands, the mood was subdued after their third World Cup final defeat.

South Africa basked in pride at pulling off a highly praised tournament despite years of reports that it would be ruined by violent crime, chaos and incomplete stadiums.

Analysts say the tournament and its stunning stadiums would rebrand not just this country but Africa for investment and tourism, but the image was marred by two bomb attacks against World Cup viewers at a restaurant and rugby club in Kampala that killed 74 fans.

Somali Islamist militants claimed the attacks as punishment to Uganda for sending peacekeeping troops to their country.

FIFA President Sepp Blatter condemned the bombings and said he hoped soccer could be a force for good in the world.

"I am very sad...I can only deplore what has happened," he said.

INCOMPLETE PREPARATIONS

Blatter said South Africa, which a year ago had been criticised for incomplete preparations, had won his highest possible mark of nine out of 10.

"Africa has proven that really they can organise this World Cup... they can be proud," Blatter told a news conference.

But he acknowledged that the final had fallen short of the best quality because of the rough play, which resulted in a World Cup final record of 13 yellow cards from English referee Howard Webb, who also sent off defender John Heitinga. He was fiercely criticised by players from both sides.

More than 100,000 people had watched the game on open air screens in scorching heat in Madrid and many shed tears of joy or went hoarse with screams of delight.

Soccer's ruling body said a record 15.6 million Spaniards, or nearly 80 percent of television market share, watched and the figure was 90 percent in the Netherlands.

South Africans swelled with pride at a tournament where they continued to pack stadiums despite being the first host nation eliminated in the group stage. FIFA said nearly 3.2 million spectators attended the 64 games, the third highest total after the United States in 1994 and Germany in 2006.

Nelson Mandela, much loved father of post-apartheid South Africa but in frail health at the age of 91, capped national pride by touring the pitch in a golf buggy before the match in biting cold at the cavernous Soccer City stadium.

President Jacob Zuma on Monday said the nation's $5.3 billion spending on the tournament would bring in increased tourism, trade and investment.

He said it would create the revenue to address myriad social problems including widespread poverty, some of the world's greatest wealth disparities and an HIV pandemic, which critics say should have been given priority over the World Cup.

But organisers say it has created major infrastructure and brought together a nation still troubled by racial and social divisions 16 years after the end of apartheid.

"Never in our history have we seen South Africans so united," said Irvin Khoza, chairman of the local organisers.

One of the big hits of the tournament was Paul the oracle octopus, who had a perfect record of eight-for-eight predictions and was given a replica trophy by his German aquarium.

But he is not universally popular. Germans threatened to barbeque Paul after he predicted their semi-final defeat by Spain and Graham Sharpe of British bookmakers William Hill said punters had made small fortunes by following his predictions.

"I'm going to the seaside and intend to eat as much octopus as I can cram down as revenge," Sharpe said.

(Editing by Ed Osmond and Pritha Sarkar)

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