Well, this is beginning more than a month later than I thought it would but here goes…
I was surprised by how difficult I found it to come up with this team – this is in no way meant as a slight on South African literature but is rather admission of my ignorance. Having begun with Nadine Gordimer and J.M. Coetzee, I blithely assumed that South Africa’s newsworthiness and relative familiarity with the English speaking world would have translated into attention paid to its literature in the literary publications and bookshops where I would normally expect to recruit many of my players. i.e. I arrogantly thought that a ‘well-read’ westerner who reads review pages slightly obsessively in both English and Spanish would have come across plenty enough South African writers to play a silly game like this one. But I was wrong. I didn’t even know that Wilbur Smith was South African. So, my first team of this world cup is grounded in more ignorance than is ideal – but looking at it another way, offers great potential for exploration.
Nadine Gordimer; a brilliant mind with a world class reputation, she seems the perfect person to lead, marshall and provide her team with just the right measures of perspective and worldly wisdom.
Wilbur Smith; it’s difficult to imagine Wilbur Smith as anything other than the classic number nine.
Niq Mhlongo; an exciting young talent, he provides speed, honesty and a creative flourish to complement Smith’s rather blunt style.
J.M. Coetzee; there are many who consider him to be one of the greatest creative talents playing today. And just as many who find him utterly infuriating. Perhaps it depends on what day you catch him but one wouldn’t find many managers who’d leave him out of their team.
Mongane Wally Serote; a wise head with plenty grit and steel, he would hopefully provide stability to counter the moments when Coetzee disappears up a blind alley.
Zakes Mda, what’s known today as a ‘modern defender’, an excellent passer and possessed of a marvelous ability to read the game.
Njabulo Ndebele; an utterly dependable character with an impeccable pedigree – exactly what one might want in a goalkeeper.
Miriam Tlali (who gets quite a panning on wikipedia, but whose import certainly merits inclusion), Sipho Sepamla, Athol Fugard, Lisa Fugard (the first ever father/daughter team to play in the world cup.)
Octavio Paz; one of the great men of Mexican letters, he seems exactly the right man to manage this team.
Juan Rulfo; deceptively direct and clinical, with an unrivalled ability to ghost past defenders. The only question mark is his lack of match practice.
Carlos Fuentes; a player who in theory has it all. Will run all day and, if given enough possession, is very able to run a game from the midfield.
Sergio Pitol; a marvelously creative player who one would hope would form a productive partnership with Fuentes. has achieved a huge amount in his career and yet is open to accusations of being lightwight.
Elena Poniatowska, an honest, extremely hardworking player, the very heartbeat of the team.
Ignacio Padilla; recalls some of the great footballing backs of the fifties and sixties.
Sor Juana De la Cruz, prone to lapses of concentration but can be a hugely important player on her day.
It seems to me that this would be a game of organization and teamwork against individual brilliance and effort. Looking at the line-up, one would have to say that Gordimer would pull off an incredible feat if she could get her players playing as a cohesive unit. Mexico, in contrast, would seem only to need a guiding hand and the occasional tweak – and the bench is packed with precocious talent and experience if necessary. Nevertheless, South Africa are at home, understand the pitch and the atmosphere better than anyone, one can be sure that each player will give it their all and in Coetzee they have a potential talisman. It’s also possible that Mexico might wilt under the pressure, Rulfo might certainly disappear, but I still see them having too much:
South Africa 1:2 Mexico