2010 FIFA World Cup: Pienaar Talks Mandela, Racism, Pride and Football

Ron FurlongAnalyst IIJune 4, 2010

SANDTON, SOUTH AFRICA - MAY 26:  Steven Pienaar during a Bafana Bafana press conference at the Southern Sun Grayston on May 26, 2010 in Sandton, South Africa. (Photo by Lefty Shivambu/Gallo Images/Getty Images)
Gallo Images/Getty Images

Steven Pienaar loves the Clint Eastwood directed movie Invictus. The 2009 movie depicts the South African involvement in the 1995 Rugby World Cup.

Pienaar, the Everton FC star, is about to lead his native South Africa into the 2010 Football World Cup, on home soil no less.

"I've watched the film five times," Pienaar told News of the World in a recent interview. "Everytime I watch it, it makes me want to cry because it is so true."

The movie tells the story of how newly elected president Nelson Mandela used the matches to unite the people of South Africa.

Pienaar believes a similar type of "union" can take place this month in South Africa.

"The whole country can come together," he said. "There is still a lot of racial tension, but sport builds the spirit and unites the people."

Pienaar went on to explain how he was able to watch the matches while in school back in 1995.

"We were packed into tents watching the game," he said. "There were a lot of white Afrikaners in my school, but we were allowed to watch the games together for the first time."

For this World Cup to have a similar effect on the nation, the team will have to have some level of success. This could be difficult. South Africa is currently the 83rd ranked team in the FIFA World Rankings.

They do have a four things working for them, however.

One, they are on home soil and will have great vocal support at their games.

Two, they find themselves in a group that they may be able to advance out of, despite their ranking. They are in Group A with France, Mexico and Uruguay. A lot will depend on that first game with Mexico, who may end up being the team they battle with for the second spot.

Three, they are playing pretty well. In their most recent friendly they beat Guatemala 5-0, and the game before that they beat Columbia 2-1. They will play Denmark in their final tune-up game on Saturday.

And four, they have Steven Pienaar playing some great football. He was outstanding in the game against Guatemala. If he can hold his form into the World Cup, South Africa can indeed advance.

Nelson Mandela met with the team on Thursday and said he will be at the opening game on June 11th, when South Africa plays Mexico to kick off the tournament. There had been speculation the 91-year-old Mandela would not be at the game.

FIFA President Sepp Blatter had expressed concern as recently as Wednesday that Mandela might not make an appearance at the World Cup. He had said that the event would not be the same without him, and if he did come to a game it would be the highlight of the tournament.

Steven Pienaar explained how it is to meet Mandela.

"For us (the team), it's like going to meet the father of the nation. Everyone looks up to him. He still inspires the people."

Pienaar is also out to prove not only that his team can succeed on the pitch, but also that South Africa can succeed hosting this event.

"People can say what they like about my country," he said, "but the World Cup is coming here for good reason, because we can stage this competition as well as anyone."

If indeed the hopes of uniting the nation of South Africa lie with this football team, a large portion of that hope is to be laid upon Pienaar himself, and his ability to lead his team out of the group stage.

Pienaar seems ready to answer the challenge. And, no doubt, while Pienaar and his teammates are in the process of answering that challenge on the pitch, black and white boys alike will be huddled together listening to and watching the games, just like Steven himself did 15 years ago.