Gullit: Continent can show world new side

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The Independent Online

The global view of Africa will be changed by the World Cup next year, whether or not an African team wins, former Netherlands international captain Ruud Gullit believes.

''People's minds are already changing about Africa. When people think about Africa, they think about starvation, HIV, civil wars – things like that,'' Gullit said.

"But things are changing. Now there is a real possibility to show the world Africa is much more than just that. And if an African team won it, as perhaps Ivory Coast could do, then that would be an enormous boost for Africa as a whole, not just for African football.''

Gullit, a former European Footballer of the Year, is in South Africa as an ambassador for the joint Netherlands-Belgium bid to stage either the 2018 or 2022 finals.

Gullit, who has had close links with African soccer for many years, believes four of the continent's six finalists could make an impact at the tournament, which runs from 11 June to 11 July.

''South Africa, as hosts, have a chance to do well but they will be nervous. Nigeria and Ghana also have very good teams and could make a real impact but Ivory Coast have some outstanding players like Didier Drogba, Salomon Kalou, Kolo Touré.

''The Africans have always had a chance but for one reason or another they have never quite done it. It often comes down to small details, but it would be nice if an African country went all the way.''

No African team has gone beyond the quarter-finals in the tournament and Pele's prediction that an African team would win the World Cup by the year 2000 is now a decade behind schedule.

''Naturally I hope Holland go all the way,'' Gullit added. ''They are playing well at the moment. They qualified top of their group, they are third in the world rankings. Dutch players are in teams all over Europe; they are everywhere.

''Of course it will be difficult and all the usual suspects will be there: Brazil, the Italians, the world champions – they know how to play a tournament.

''Everyone is very fond of Spain and the way they play. Portugal has a better chance than they had before, they also have a very good team.''

Ultimately though, Gullit believes that Africa will emerge as the winner whoever triumphs on the pitch.

''I am convinced they will show the world another side of the African story – a very successful side as well.''

Meanwhile, Fifa unveiled the official ball for next year's World Cup on Friday, with the makers billing it as the first perfectly round ball and the most accurate yet.

Aerodynamic bumps on the ball would allow for stable flight and grip under all conditions, makers adidas said at the launch in Cape Town.

Fifa president Sepp Blatter and leading players praised the ball, named "Jabulani", which means to celebrate in Zulu, one of the official languages in host country South Africa. ''For me, contact with the ball is all important, and that's just great with this ball,'' Brazil's Kaka said in a statement.

The ball has 11 colours, representing the 11 players in a team and the number of languages spoken in South Africa, the first African country to host the world's most watched single-sport tournament.

The new ball was launched hours ahead of the World Cup draw that will put the 32 qualifying teams into groups. ''It's the tool of our trade and we want the best,'' former England captain David Beckham said. ''Any good football player would be able to control any ball, but it's good to have a little bit of help.''

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