World Cup fever engrosses Bolt, Federer, Nadal, Alonso

Although preparing for their own tournaments takes centre stage, top champions from other sports are not immune to World Cup fever.

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

Says the Mallorcan: "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," said the
French Open champion.

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

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
emergings 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

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."

Bureau Report

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