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Jun 21, 2009

The alternative Confed Cup awards

After Saturday night's 2-0 victory over hosts South Africa, Spain have qualified for the knock-out phase of the Confederations Cup, beating the world record for consecutive victories and equalling Brazil's 35 undefeated matches mark in the process.

The Spaniards will have to wait until Sunday night to find out their rivals for their semi-final match on Wednesday 24th in Bloemfontein. Let's use this idle time to hand out some awards once the first phase of the tournament is over.

1. The ''Superbowl XXXIX in Jacksonville" Award to the Most Absurd Venue Selection goes to the Organising Committee of this Confederations Cup. A botched job if there ever was one. The Committee only needed to pick four nice, exciting cities to showcase South Africa to the rest of the world and attract tourists for next year's World Cup. How that top four includes Rustenburg and Bloemfontein just escapes me.

I doubt any member of the Committee has ever spent a day off in Rustenburg. Not a single thing to do, unless you belong to the small club of Platinum Mine Worshippers. Bloemfontein's leisure offer is restricted to one obscure street packed with tacky bars apparently imported from Benidorm, and an average shopping mall with no character whatsoever. Whatever happened to Cape Town? And Durban? Was Rustenburg and Bloemfontein the best they could do?

2. The Garry Kasparov Award to the Widest Array of Tactical Options goes to Spain's Vicente del Bosque. After decades looking for their own style, the Spaniards have finally found a successful and captivating approach. But on top of that, and leveraging the work of previous coach Luis Aragonés, Mr Del Bosque now has at his disposal several formations, all of which maintain the high performance of the team.

In this Confederations Cup we have seen Spain play an offensive 4-4-2 with two wingers; a 4-4-2 with a ''fake winger'' (usually Fabregas, who roams freely); a 4-1-4-1 that maintains possession almost effortlessly when they get the lead. We even saw five minutes of a 5-4-1 formation on Saturday night when Sergi Busquets joined the centre backs to improve Spain's passing at the back.

During the first phase, the gaffer has allowed himself to experiment with formations and players, making the most out of a fantastic group (let's remember Marcos Senna and Andrés Iniesta are injured). Hopefully that will show in the knock-out round.

3. The Philip Kotler Award to the Best Marketing Strategy goes to the English Premier League. Leaving aside those endless arguments about which European League is better, when it comes to selling an appealing football product to the rest of the world, the Premier League currently has no competitor.

Spain's national team includes Xavi Hernández, UEFA's best player of the tournament in Euro08 and winner of the Champions League this year; David Villa, top scorer in Euro08; Iker Casillas, winner of endless titles with Real Madrid both in Spain and Europe.

However, it's Fernando Torres and Cesc Fábregas who draw all the attention from South African fans wherever La Fúria train or play. Even Álvaro Arbeloa gets more rounds of applause and requests for autographs than any of his team mates playing in La Liga.

This tournament should become a huge wake up call for the Spanish Federation and the Liga de Fútbol Profesional (governing body of La Liga). For several years they have done an extremely poor job of selling our exciting championship abroad, and should learn a thing or two from their English counterparts if they want to get a piece of the huge revenue that our beloved sport generates worldwide.

Otherwise, we'll keep on seeing shirts of Premier League teams everywhere, and wondering why La Liga and its players do not enjoy such a huge popularity despite their achievements.

4. The Lloyd Christmas Award to the Most Annoying Sound goes to the vuvuzelas. For those of you unfamiliar with this devilish creation, a vuvuzela is the local version of an air horn, made out of plastic. When blown, its sound is supposed to mimic that of an elephant, although not all of us agree on that.

Several players and coaches have complained about the noise made by these local horns during matches. ''They drive me nuts'', said Spain's Daniel Güiza. His team mate Xabi Alonso even suggested they should be banned during the 2010 World Cup, which generated uproar among local journalists who explained that ''they are an integral part of soccer in South Africa''. Excessive noise was never a problem in football. We all love cheering, screaming, booing and whistling. The issue with the vuvuzelas is that, especially when South Africa are not playing, their sound bears no relationship whatsoever with the match being played. They're blown constantly, illogically, in a nonsensical way. The pitch could be empty and the South African fans would be making noise exactly the same way. Banning the vuvuzelas from the stadiums would make as much sense as prohibiting the Mexican wave (and believe me, I totally detest both things). Fans should be able to add colour to the match in any reasonable way, shape or form. Just don't ask us to enjoy them when they're blown out of sync with the match.

5. The Ebenezer Scrooge Award to the Worst-Humoured Chap goes to David Villa. He hasn't smiled once since he arrived in South Africa. Has neglected all media with the only exception of sideline reporter Sara Carbonero (you'll understand why in Prize #6). Whenever in public he walks around with a huge pair of headphones on to avoid questions from journalists or fans alike. His goal celebration on Saturday was inappropriately enraged, and not only because his previous rare penalty-kick miss. When you are a top-level footballer and your options for the next few seasons include Real Madrid, Barcelona or Chelsea, in all cases with a salary as huge as they come, it shouldn't be that difficult to offer a smile and a friendly phrase or two.

6. The (fill this with the name of the most attractive woman you've ever seen in person) Award goes to Sara Carbonero, sideline reporter for Spain's Telecinco. She is probably the only subject upon which players, journalists, coaches and supporters agree 100%. Even grumpy Mr. Villa could not resist her charm and uttered one sentence when she asked him a question a couple of days ago. Google her, you won't be disappointed.

7. The ''Brokeback Mountain Viewing at a Movie Theatre'' Award to the Most Awkward Moment between Males goes to the designer of the men's toilets in the Free State Stadium. The space between one urinal and the next one is barely five centimetres.

The urinals themselves are quite small and hang low on the wall, so the experience of using the facility during halftime, when the toilettes are packed, is embarrassing to say the least. Let's just put it this way: some of my former girlfriends have seen less of my body than the two gentlemen standing on my left and right flanks on Saturday.

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