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The Silver Lining

Joseph Opio/Twenty Ten

Location: Johannesburg, South Africa

At first glance it seems like a run-of-the-mill football match. The supporters are in fine voice, fierce tackles fly in thick and fast, all the referee’s calls are contested furiously and committed attempts to con the Man in Black are executed. At one point, a player marked for substitution casts a questioning look towards the touchline before hanging his head in disappointment and applauding fans, hands above head, as he reluctantly trudges off the pitch.

But as they say, first impressions can be deceiving. The match that’s raging at this pockmarked, grass-deficient field in Sebokeng isn’t a competitive affair. It’s merely a six-a-side kick-about between two teams of special needs children in one of the more impoverished parts of South Africa.

It is also, one of the organizers asserts, visual proof of what hosting the World Cup means to South Africans regardless of the much-hyped drawbacks.

“Look at the smiles on their faces when they are playing football,” Simon ‘Bull’ Lehoko, a South African soccer legend says. “These kids might have so much sadness in their lives because of their mental handicaps, but all those evaporate the moment a ball crosses their line of vision. Football is such a harbinger of joy here. Even if South Africa hosting the World Cup won’t bring any direct benefits to the common man, as most analysts say, we’re no less proud and thrilled that FIFA gave us this chance.”

Lehoko and his band of ex-South...

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