July 8, 2010
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By Andrew Gavin
ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - While much of the world stopped at times over the last month to watch soccer on its biggest stage at the FIFA World Cup, UCF men's soccer coach Bryan Cunningham went to South Africa to see the atmosphere, passion and soccer for himself.
Cunningham was able to travel to South Africa as part of a youth soccer group out of Northern Ireland. He traveled with the group as an assistant coach, and his team played three games in eight days during their adventure to South Africa. Cunningham and the rest of the coaches also took the group sightseeing and, of course, to see some of the world's best soccer players in World Cup games.
With the group, Cunningham attended three games in pool play, including Italy-Paraguay, England-Algeria and North Korea-Portugal.
"The energy at the games is just palpable," said Cunningham. The fans from both countries are obviously in attendance, and then you add soccer fans and South Africans who just love soccer and are there supporting both teams. It is a fantastic experience and the people are just so into the game for 90-plus minutes. At the same time, the build up to the match is exciting too. Two of the games I went to were at 8:30 at night, so you spend the whole day in Cape Town and it's like college football tailgating but five times bigger. There are throngs of people from all over the world in one setting."
Away from the World Cup, Cunningham spent time both sightseeing and visiting different townships throughout South Africa. He visited the Cape of Good Hope and Cable Mountain as well as the city of Cape Town. He was most struck by the happiness of the people of the country.
"Seeing how people in another part of the world live, especially there in South Africa, was a unique experience," said Cunningham. "We visited two different townships and saw that the people are surviving with next to nothing. And yet, they are a very happy people and they love the game of soccer."
It is that love and passion for the game of soccer that Cunningham hopes to bring back to Orlando and share with the Knights as they return to campus to prepare for the 2010 season this August.
"I'll tell them about the passion of the people," said Cunningham. "Playing against the township team and watching how thrilled they were when they would score a goal. Seeing kids with next to nothing, with one in three parents that are HIV positive, and yet the kids are just so full of life. Hopefully, what we can pass on to our players is to be thankful for everything we have here in the United States and here at UCF, and to make the most of our opportunity."
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