World Cup fever engrosses Federer, Nadal, Bolt, Alonso
Paris – Although preparing for their own tournaments takes centre stage, top champions from other sports are not immune to World Cup fever.
So it is that the likes of Usain Bolt, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Fernando Alonso have been keeping an eye firmly on what is happening down in South Africa.
"When I was a kid everyone supported Brazil," says Jamaican sprint star Bolt.
But, perhaps ironically for a man who has left his rivals trailing in his wake in recent years, "I didn’t want to be on the side of the ones who always win.
"So I chose Argentina, who had a good team at the time and good players, such as (Gabriel) Batistuta", recalls Bolt, a self-confessed fan of current Argentine star Lionel Messi.
Swiss tennis legend Roger Federer, whose mind is focused on a yet another Wimbledon title in the weeks ahead, is also keeping abreast of World Cup developments.
"I think it’s great that South Africa is organising the World Cup. I remember seeing them win the Rugby World Cup (in 1995), and it was a great thing for the nation. Now I hope the Swiss do well and so I am supporting Switzerland and South Africa," says Federer, whose mother Lynette is South African.
Nadal, who has just moved back above Federer in the world rankings, is a Real Madrid and Spain fan and he passed on his "good luck (to the Spanish) that they will carry off the title."
Says the Mallorcan French Open champion: "We have a chance to win but once everything hinges on one game anything can happen. Spain have an incredible team – they are very complete from the goalkeeper through the defence and in attack".
Britain’s Andy Murray sees self-interest in it, as he believes that all the hype over England’s chances of winning the tournament will take some of the pressure away from him to deliver at Wimbledon which runs at the same time.
Formula One drivers are also been caught up in the emotion and whereas there will be little inter-team rivalry at McLaren, given that Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton will both be backing England, there will be a difference of opinion at Ferrari, as former champion Fernando Alonso goes for Spain and Felipe Massa for his native Brazil.
"I told Felipe that when it comes to the World Cup we will leave them (the Brazilians) standing," said Alonso with a smile.
Many pundits expect five-times winners Brazil to meet European champions Spain in the trophy match.
Massa is meanwhile not a convert to the latter day pragmatism of the Brazil team under coach Dunga and appears to yearn for a return to samba rhythms.
"I don’t like it. And I don’t think the majority of Brazilians like it," said Massa of the new more cautious and defensive style which has meant no room for the likes of the creative but ageing Ronaldinho in the squad.
"You should take your best players to a World Cup and Dunga has not done that," said Massa, regretting that young emerging stars such as Paulo Henrique Ganso and Neymar also missed the cut.
Spanish cycling champion Alberto Contador, looking to retain the World Cup this summer, joins Nadal and Alonso in backing Vicente Del Bosque’s Spanish while MotoGP serial champion Valentino Rossi will expect Italy to retain their crown.
US basketball star Kobe Bryant said for his part he is hoping for a final between Italy and Brazil.
Top female athletes also have their eye on the action, such as Brazilian Marta, widely regarded as the greatest female footballer of her generation.
She wants Brazil to win, naturally, but has a soft spot, she says, for Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo.
"I’ll be backing my boys – I believe Brazil will win it," says Marta.
Former 400 metres world champion Ana Guevara, however, was critical of her native Mexico.
According to Guevara, they lack ambition.
"I don’t agree that they should be going for fifth place (i.e., targeting the quarter-finals but no more). Mexico have never been further to date.
"If you set your sights on getting to the moon that’s what you should shoot for."
AFP / Expatica