Cape Town curse leaves fans desperate for action

CAPE TOWN - Portugal coach Carlos Queiroz has promised to break the "Cape Town curse" by ending the run of dull draws that have left the city's football fans wondering just when they are going to get a slice of World Cup excitement.

After years of protests and legal wrangles, Cape Town eventually got its 64,000 capacity, $600 million stadium on Green Point, adding a shiny new landmark to the city's already iconic panorama.

World Cup organisers played their part by lining up what looked like a feast of football as some of the most powerful nations in the game - Italy, France, England, Portugal and Netherlands - were pencilled in to play group matches there.

The fans responded by buying all the available tickets and duly filled the stadium to capacity on the opening day, bubbling over with anticipation in the wake of South Africa's exciting curtain-raising draw with Mexico.

However, having set the perfect stage, the dramatis personae fluffed their lines horribly. The first match featured the likes of Franck Ribery, Patrice Evra and Nicolas Anelka for France and Diego Forlan for Uruguay but after one early chance for Sidney Govou, the game drifted into an uninspired goalless draw.

The holders Italy were due next in a tasty-looking match-up with the second-best team from South American qualifiers, Paraguay, who had shown their quality with wins over Brazil and Argentina.

Again, though, caution took centre stage. There were at least some goals - a towering header Paraguay defender Antolin Alcaraz and a scruffy Italian equaliser by Daniele De Rossi - but precious little other action.

No matter, stand by for England. Supported by their remarkable travelling army and regarded as the "second team" of many South Africans, the millionaires of the Premier League were sure to put on a show.

Instead they were awful and their goalless, almost chanceless, match against Algeria was arguably the worst of the tournament.

England were booed off the pitch by their own fans and Capetonians who had by then sat through four-and-a-half hours of anonymous action could have been forgiven for joining in.

While the action is certainly hotting up elsewhere in the country with some excellent games over the last few days, prospects of an upturn on the Cape are not encouraging.

The final first round match there now looks a virtual dead rubber as already-qualified Netherlands play already-eliminated Cameroon when another draw would suit the Dutch admirably.

So it could fall to Portugal to get the crowd on their feet as, led by Cristiano Ronaldo, they seek to pick a way through a packed North Korean defence on Monday.

Asked if his team were worried that they too might be dragged down by the "Cape Town curse", coach Queiroz issued a reminder of his nation's proud history of exploration and discovery.

"Remember, our country's greatest achievements occurred in this region," he said. "We are very accustomed to confronting the Cape of Torments."

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