The world cup final in Durban reached a dramatic climax in the small hours of Sunday morning as the annual contest between developed and developing countries was finally decided in a nail-biting penalty shoot-out. Successive periods of extra-time had been unable to separate the sides, with the tie deadlocked in a high-scoring draw despite some elaborately theatrical point-scoring from both camps. Minister Nkoana-Mashabane, refereeing for the Proteas, was left with no choice but to call for the dreaded spot kicks.
As the deafening drone of thousands of vuvuzelas filled the streets around Durban’s Moses Mabhida stadium, Ministers and coaches called their teams into tight huddles to discuss last minute tactics before the 3am shoot-out could begin.
And so the two sides lined up for their nominated strikers to fire shots at one another. The developing countries had India, China, Brazil, with Bolivia taking a more back-seat role, seemingly keen to avoid a second consecutive red card having been ruthlessly dispatched by last year’s referee. First blood to India, scoring authoritatively with point full of moral force about global equity. On the developed country side, the charge was led by the EU and Norway, with some support from Australia. The EU had recently emerged from endless tortuous and sometimes hostile qualifying rounds to establish their communal position, with hopeful long balls from the UK being playfully snubbed by Gallic flair. As the British and French resorted to bickering, calling each other names and doing down each other’s economy. some effective and systematic defence from the Germans and Poles served to steady the European position.
The United States, accustomed to playing a central role in such international contests, appeared increasingly bemused and uncomprehending of the game that everybody else was playing. Each time they stepped forward wielding a baseball bat, there was nobody to pitch to them and the superpower found itself increasingly sidelined from the discussion. Close neighbours Canada, for their part, preferred to tear up the rulebook and resort to gloves-off ice hockey brawls to settle international agreements, claiming that their own rules are better.
The potshots continued as the clock crept towards dawn and the delegates began to droop into their microphones. Brazil, much hyped as a key player on the developing side, produced a spectacular bicycle kick that went soaring high over the bar. Norway slotted one away for the developed countries with cool Scandinavian ease. Just when it looked like the contest could continue forever, the EU came forward and, though often criticised for their pragmatic and boring playing style, resolutely kept firing low shots passed the now napping Indian goal-keeper, fighting coolly for an agreement with legal force applicable to all Parties. When Referee Nkoana-Mashabane finally brought down the hammer on proceedings, the EU was celebrating a clear negotiation victory.
But perhaps the loser in all this is the planet, with no further ambition or binding agreement scheduled until at least 2020. And as delegations return to Delhi and Beijing with clear ground conceded, perhaps we can expect a return to more fractious argument come Doha in 2012. Doha. A word synonymous with effective, timely and easy multilateral agreements. Not.