World Cup braces for an early South Africa exit

JOHANNESBURG (AP) - There's a strong possibility South Africa will become the first host nation to not reach the knockout phase of a World Cup...

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JOHANNESBURG (AP) — It’s crucial that South African fans show enthusiasm for other teams if their underdog home squad fails to advance to the second round, World Cup organizing chief Danny Jordaan said Thursday.

Jordaan, the CEO of the local organizing committee, called South Africa’s 3-0 defeat to Uruguay on Wednesday a crushing disappointment for the host nation’s zealous fans.

“As people walked home, for the first time the vuvuzelas were silent,” he said, referring to the plastic horns that have created a din at World Cup matches.

South Africa still has a slim chance to advance with a victory over France next week, depending on how other teams in its group fare. But there’s a strong possibility it will become the first host nation to fail to reach the knockout phase of a World Cup.

“What’s important is the extent to which fans embrace the tournament beyond Bafana Bafana,” Jordaan said, using the home team’s popular nickname.

The government echoed the plea.

“This is not the time to pull back, regardless of the disappointment we may feel after Bafana Bafana’s loss,” said spokesperson Themba Maseko.

“Since the opening game. … South Africans have heeded the call to be good hosts, coming out in numbers to create a thrilling atmosphere,” he said. “We need to continue doing this, irrespective of Bafana Bafana’s performance.”

Jordaan, at a breakfast briefing with journalists, said the South African loss and the stunning upset of Spain by Switzerland added up to “a day of shock and pain” on Wednesday. He noted that it also was a national holiday marking the 1976 protest march by Soweto students that ignited anti-apartheid clashes.

Aside from the home team’s predicament, Jordaan said he was pleased by the tournament thus far — with fans heeding calls to arrive earlier for matches, and ticket sales on the verge of surpassing Germany in 2006 to become the second-highest in World Cup history after the 1994 tournament in the United States.

“It’s a tournament of severe host nation pain, but a celebration from the organizing committee perspective,” he said.

One concern, looking ahead, is possible traffic congestion on July 11 when the final is played at Soccer City in Johannesburg. Jordaan urged fans to use public transportation, and warned that access by private cars to Soccer City would be restricted.

He also anticipated an escalation of ticket scalping for the final — and said organizers were working with police to try to curtail this.

Fans of the teams in the finals “will be prepared to pay any price,” he said.

Jordaan expressed relief that South African police were now planning to take over security duties for the rest of the tournament at four stadiums where security stewards had gone on strike over wages.

Asked if the organizers would need to pay the police for the extra deployments, he acknowledged there were “cost implications” but gave no details.

A union representing many security workers in South Africa has asked the Labor Department to investigate whether labor laws were broken in dealings with the aggrieved stewards. Jordaan said organizers and others were looking into the question, but that answers “will take some time.”

He praised the police for “an incredible job” handling the security duties, and added, “We have the responsibility to create an environment where fans can celebrate.”

Asked about the shortage of goals thus far in the tournament, he predicted an offensive surge as the teams head into their second matches — with several needing wins, rather than draws, to advance. He said there was no consensus on whether the new soccer ball created for the World Cup was a factor in the low scoring.

“The team winning the World Cup will definitely praise the ball,” he said,

One reporter suggested that Jordaan urge South African fans to rally behind North Korea, which appeared to have the smallest number of its own fans at the World Cup.

Jordaan laughed, but praised the North Korean team.

“I’m sure they will develop strong support,” he said.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.