JOHANNESBURG – Japhet Zwane, the former Bafana Bafana international, says the FIFA World Cup Russia 2018 that kicks off tomorrow with the clash between the hosts and Saudi Arabia should be a fest for many reasons.
While there have been fears that racism could be a problem, particularly for fans of the African teams, Zwane does not believe that would be so.
He should know, the man from Umlazi, Durban, having spent two years playing his football in Russia.
“It depends,” he said of the racism issue. “Some people are friendly and there’s a certain section that treats you as a foreigner. But I don’t think scenes like those where people are racially abused will come into the picture during the World Cup.”
Zwane played for Rostov FC between 2003 and 2005 and it is from that experience that he believes the World Cup will be a great festival, the general fears notwithstanding.
From his experiences then, Zwane says the “majority of people are friendly. But, as I said, there is a certain section that is not friendly.”
That, though, is a character of just about every country in the world, he argues.
“Even here in South Africa, there are people who behave like that (in a racist and hooliganism way).”
He says the weather conditions will be perfect for great football.
“People will enjoy good football. During the summer, the sun sets at about 9pm. And when I played there it was always a great time of the season. The world stars are going to love it.”
Talking of stars, it is evident that the rest of the world’s eyes will be looking at Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi of Argentina and Brazilian Neymar to set the tournament alight.
Zwane, though, is of the view that it will be Belgium’s Eden Hazard everybody will be talking about come the end of the month-long spectacle.
“Eden Hazard is the player to watch for me. He was a stand out player for Chelsea although they didn’t enjoy a good season. This is the platform for him to showcase his talent, and I believe he will,” Zwane said of the Belgian star who limped off the field in his country's last friendly international at the weekend.
Zwane is tipping Germany to defend their title although he foresees France posing a serious threat to the 2014 champions.
“Germany are my favourites. They have a very well balanced team. They know how to win games when it matters the most. France is another nation that will dazzle. They will play good football and win matches.”
And the African representatives?
Zwane believes Egypt, who are in the same group with the hosts, Saudi Arabia and Uruguay, have it in them to reach the knockout stages.
“I initially thought Nigeria were ready to shine. But when I watched their friendly matches, I was left disappointed. They have good players but they are not playing as a team.
“I think Egypt have a better chance. They have a good mentality against European countries and that should help them do well in this tournament.”