Confederations clues

South African fans
South African fans give their team noisy support

The World Cup is only a year away and the forthcoming Confederations Cup in South Africa will reveal plenty about what to expect in 2010.

The eight-team tournament features the hosts, plus world champions Italy and Fifa’s six continental winners.

Fans will get an early taste of what an African World Cup will be like.

The very loud plastic trumpet known as a vuvuzela is likely to live in the memory, but the local weather may prove to be something of a dampener.

One man with no doubts about the biggest surprise in store is Ruud Krol, the legendary Dutchman who played in the final of the World Cup in both 1974 and 1978.

“The altitude here is going to be a problem,” says the man who now coaches Orlando Pirates in Johannesburg, where the climax of 2010 will take place.

“Jo’burg is 1750 metres above sea level and everybody forgets that because you don’t see any mountains around.

“In the beginning, teams are going to find it very difficult.”

Kalusha Bwalya in action for Zambia in 1998
Kalusha Bwalya knows all about playing at altitude

Apart from the two World Cups in Mexico, whose capital stands some 2250m high, the final has normally been played at relatively low altitude.

Zambia’s Kalusha Bwalya, who played club football in Mexico and internationally in Johannesburg, believes the altitude will help South Africa’s beleaguered team.

“It can be a definite advantage for them because altitude does affect a team,” the 1988 African Footballer of the Year told BBC Sport.

“It’s not like some places in Latin America but you can still feel there’s less oxygen, especially in the second half.

“If your fitness levels are not that good, you are going to suffer.”

In anticipation, the touring British and Irish Lions rugby side underwent intense altitude training to fine-tune their preparations but some still found the conditions challenging.

“I certainly underestimated the effects of altitude,” Ireland’s Ronan O’Gara said after his first match.

“The mind was telling me one thing, but the body wouldn’t get into position to do it.”

Ronan O'Gara in action for the British and Irish Lions
Ronan O’Gara (centre) admits underestimating the effects of altitude

The rugby players are also discovering that the World Cup is not necessarily going to be played under the heat of the African sun as many assume – even former African footballers themselves.

“Africans are used to playing in hot weather so that’ll give an advantage to the African qualifiers,” says Nigeria’s Emanuel Amuneke, an African champion in 1994 and 1996 Olympic gold medallist.

Yet Johannesburg suffers its lowest annual temperatures in June and July, averaging 10°C.

Cape Town is warmer but has its heaviest rains at this time of year.

With night matches set to be chilly affairs, it will be up to both the players and the fans to generate some warmth.

Teko Modise, one of the hosts’ potential Confederations Cup stars, is sure the local supporters will ensure a colourful event from Sunday.

“We’ve never seen a tournament like this, which is why everyone in South Africa is excited – everyone’s favourite players are coming,” explains the Orlando Pirates’ playmaker.

South African fans
The vuvuzela is ubiquitous at South African games

“The fans will come out in numbers and I imagine that if I wasn’t a footballer, I’d be buying my vuvuzela right now and donning my Bafana Bafana jersey.”

Along with the South African fans’ signature miners’ hats which get turned into works of art, the vuvuzela will be a lasting memory of the 2010 World Cup.

Nothing more than a simple horn made of plastic, the noise generated when thousands are blown simultaneously is often compared to a swarm of bees.

And visitors will hear it for themselves when South Africa start the Confederations Cup by taking on Iraq in Johannesburg on Sunday.

They follow it up with Group A clashes against New Zealand and Spain.

Group B, meanwhile, features Brazil, Italy, the United States and African champions Egypt.

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