BOSTON — South Africa's World Cup 2010 has succeeded in gripping viewers around the globe with first rate soccer, dramatic goals and nail-biting finishes.
The World Cup comes to a dramatic close Sunday with the battle between between Spain and the Netherlands that promises to be an exciting match of contrasting styles, according to GlobalPost's sports expert, Mark Starr.
The Spanish team is the world's best exemplar of the "beautiful game" style of play of short, controlled passes and finesse. Representing a variety of different regional and ethnic groups, the play as a cohesive unit and their example has united Spain, which has a long history of bitter regional divisions, writes correspondent Graham Hunter who is with the team in South Africa.
Spain has never won the World Cup and some economists say victory would give the country's ailing economy a much-needed boost.
The Netherlands is ablaze in orange, as the country shows its support, according to Paul Ames who visited the town of Breda. The Dutch have never won the World Cup, although they came close twice in the 1970s. The Netherlands team developed their own style of "total football" that should make for a dramatic contest against Spain.
Surprisingly, support for the Netherlands reaches across the globe to Indonesia, a former Dutch colony. Most Indonesians have set aside negative feelings over the war fought to win independence from the Netherlands and are excitedly supporting the Dutch team, according to Sara Schonhardt in Jakarta.
South Africa was a controversial choice to host the games. Many critics said FIFA must be ready with an alternate host in case South Africa failed to adequately prepare for the world's largest sports tournament. But the games have proved to be a success, with many of the 450,000 visitors glowing about their time in South Africa, according to Nicolas Brulliard who has gone to Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban and Rustenberg to cover matches.
South Africa constructed or remodeled 10 stadiums in order to host the World Cup and some critics charge that many of the stadiums will be white elephants that will never be able to support themselves financially, according to a dispatch from Maura O'Connor.
The World Cup is not necessarily all good for South Africa. Some criticize the government for spending an estimated 4 billion dollars to host the tournament while so many of its people remain in poverty.
Some warn that in the aftermath of the World Cup, poor South Africans may erupt in violence against the millions of immigrants from other African countries. South Africa experienced a vicious round of xenophobic riots in 2008 in which more than 13 people were killed. Experts warn such violence could happen again when the World Cup ends and poor black South Africans realize their lives are still bleak, according to Erin Conway-Smith.
Although a record six African countries qualified for the World Cup, only Ghana made it through the first round, and then beat the United States in a tight match, to move on to the quarterfinals. The Ghanaians then lost in an incredibly close match against Uruguay, in which a Ghana goal was stopped by a Uruguayan handball. Ghana was awarded a penalty kick but failed to score and went on to lose a penalty shootout.
Nigeria's team did not fare well, losing two matches and tieing one to go out in the first round. Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan was so disgusted that he announced Nigeria would withdraw from all international soccer competition for two years in order to get its house in order. FIFA intervened to get Jonathan to reverse his decree. Nigeria is relying on special schools for young soccer players to build up its national talent.
Zimbabwe did not succeed in its hopes to cash in on the World Cup by attracting tourists from neighboring South Africa. It seems President Robert Mugabe's dictatorship frightened off potential visitors.
Germany, which reached the semi-finals, fielded a team which highlighted the country's new ethnic and racial diversity.
On the lighter side, everyone knows that World Cup soccer hotties have been featured in their underwear on the covers of glossy magazines. But GlobalPost took a unique perspective and showed the World Cup's 10 least sexy soccer players.
And now that the World Cup is coming to a close, why not read GlobalPost's Insiders' Guide to the 32 teams that started in the tournament one month ago and then take our quiz to see how much you know about the soccer tournament?