90 Seconds With … Quinton Fortune

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Hopefully the first in a regular series on TIME’s World Cup blog, 90 Seconds With … will be interviews with some of the names that have graced the greatest show on earth. First up: a former South African superstar.

Quinton Fortune can be considered fortunate indeed. The South African midfielder, who has also played for the likes of Manchester United and Atlético Madrid, took part in two World Cups for his nation — 1998 in France, and 2002 in Japan and South Korea. Pretty good going considering that until Friday’s kick off, they’re the only two World Cups South Africa has participated in.

Fortune is in South Africa to take in the Rainbow Nation hosting the greatest show on earth but also as an ambassador for 1Goal, which has the laudable aim of trying to provide education for the 72 million children currently going without around the world. He spoke to me about what it means for South Africa to have the World Cup on its own patch, his memories of the tournament and his (somewhat surprising) tip to win it this time around.

How excited are you by the first ever World Cup to be held in Africa?

It’s crazy. People are walking around with the vuvuzelas. Everyone is blowing them and it’s driving some people mad! There’s a lot of joy in the people and you can see it in their faces. They want to see Bafana (South Africa) play or England play or Brazil play and to have all these guys here in our country is absolutely unbelievable for South Africa.

What it will be like when Nelson Mandela hopefully meets the South African team tomorrow and that opening match against Mexico?

Wow! I can’t even put it into words, just electric, just crazy. It’s going to be unbelievable. I tell you this:  the players won’t be able to sleep tonight! They’ll just be thinking of meeting the Big Chief (Nelson Mandela), our leader, tomorrow. And it will be like winning the World Cup to meet the great man. We can’t wait for kick off and the stadium will be full tomorrow and I’m sure the players are nervous but every single person in South Africa is looking forward to the game.

How do you think your team will do? Will South Africa get out of the group?

I believe so. I think because we’ve got home advantage, we have a lot of local players who are used to this environment and the crowds. And I’m sure the fans and the vuvuzelas will be the extra player. But we have to bear in mind we’re playing Mexico, who are a very experienced team and have world class players, such as Márquez who plays for Barcelona. He’s a good leader. So it’s going to be difficult but it’s very important we get a result and, most importantly, not lose.

Tell me about the other sides in the group, France and Uruguay. Who do you fear?

Who do we fear? We fear both! At the same time, you should respect every opponent you play against in international football. I mean, you’re playing against France, they’ve got very good players. The same with Uruguay. But it’s all about tomorrow. Let’s try, if possible, to get a win tomorrow, which will settle the whole country and the players down. We can’t then relax but we can push on from there and I’m sure we’ll be able to get the results in the next two games. But it’s very important to get the result tomorrow.

What are your memories of the 1998 and 2002 World Cups?

1998 was my first time on the world stage and you dream about playing in the World Cup. And then it becomes real. But then at the same time it’s just crazy. Our first game was against France, in Marseilles, and I played against people I had up on my wall! Some of my favorite players were Marcel Desailly and Zinedine Zidane and I managed to play against these guys! But in Japan and Korea in 2002, we got our first win against Slovenia and I managed to score a penalty in our draw with Paraguay. Scoring at the World Cup is crazy because one moment you’re playing with your friends on a field in Cape Town and the next on a field against your heroes. Thank God I was able to get that opportunity.

Which players should we look out for in this World Cup?

We don’t have to go far there: it’s the great Messi. I’ve seen him at Barcelona and the guy is probably the nearest thing we’ve got to Maradona. Obviously, Wayne Rooney, if he’s at 100%, can be a key player for England in the tournament. Christiano Ronaldo as well as several Spanish players such as Iniesta and Xavi, but I would say the King is Messi. The guy is that good. If I was Maradona, I would play the rest of the team behind him and just give him the ball.

Finally, I need a prediction: who will win?

There could be a few teams. I would put England in there, Argentina, Brazil and Spain. I actually go with England. I think England have a very good chance. People might think I’m crazy but I think Capello is the kind of manager who doesn’t take a job just to go the second round or the quarter-finals. He’s one of those guys who wants to win. But if not England, then Argentina, even though the English people I’ve spoken to don’t give their own team a chance!

I think England will get knocked out in the semi-finals.

(Laughs) You see?!?

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