Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Catch-up Part 1: Today is Thursday so this must be Polokwane...?

Firstly, apologies for the scarcity of postings over the past few days.... Nope, sorry, we have not been murdered/car-jacked/sold into the white slave trade, or even drunken ourselves in to a stupor. A combination of very late nights, various coughs, colds and flu, and a flaky internet connection here in the boondocks, has combined to cause a postponement of blog entries for a short while. You will glad to know that normal service will be resumed as soon as possible...

Since the last post we have been to a handful more games in various provinces/cities/stadiums, which by now have all stated to blur at the edges. Firstly we saw Germany beat Ghana 1-nil at Soccer City in a rather uninspiring game where both teams had, and squandered, numerous chances, until the bug-eyed Ozil put one in the back of the net from some distance. My genetic disposition to dislike of the Germans led me to want the Ghanaians to win, and the fact that they did not has helped consign this game to the ‘forgettable’ category of World Cup Games.

Next up was a game I did have some real passion for, New Zealand v Paraguay in Polokwane, (that must have been last Thursday..?) This was to be the longest of our car trips to see a match, so we left very early to cover the 300+ kms North into the Limpopo province. The road was clear and we made good progress, enough so that we even had time to stop off for a KFC..!, (surprisingly better than the soft and insipid version we get in NZ). The Park and Ride was a breeze and we reached the Stadium nice and early, which gave us a chance to look around and for Yates to forlornly ‘fence’ his spare ticket. There was good support from the All Whites fans in several parts of the ground, and it was great to hear some familiar chants. Now if the Kiwis could pull off a win, then we would really have something to cheer about...

The All Whites played with their usual strength and determination, maintaining good defensive positioning and even looking a little dangerous up front. It was always going to be a difficult game and the reality was that Paraguay would be happy playing for a draw while scoring more than one goal would be nigh on impossible for our boys. As the game drifted past half-time, Simon Elliot had the best chance of the game to grab that precious goal with a powerful shot just slightly wide, but it was becoming obvious that a nil-nil draw was likely to be the outcome. Mark Paston did his international reputation no harm with some outstanding saves late in the 2nd half, after a couple of goalmouth scuffles, but the 90 minutes were soon up, and no matter how loud we screamed for the All Whites to get a last minute winner, it was not to be. Even though we were disappointed that New Zealand would not progress beyond the group stage, we were not only immensely proud of how well the team had done, but also how much better they had done than anyone expected them to do. To go home undefeated in 3 games, including against the reigning world Champions, was a stellar achievement which will only help the continued development of the ‘Beautiful Game’ in my adopted home of New Zealand. Go the All Whites....!!

By this point in proceedings, my cold had gone from the tickly throat stage, through the coughing fits, to the full blown snot and all-sort part and I felt lousy. Fiona and Yates also had some variation of the same thing but seemed to coping with it better than I was, so our rest day was exactly that, spent resting, sleeping, and sneezing. I did perk up for another gourmet meal from the lodge, which included a fantastically delicious local stew, which was just what I needed, but I soon back to bed, tucked up nice an warm. My cold broke the next day which was good, but I was still only running at about 60%, so resting and recovery was still high on the menu, even though we had a long trip out to Rustenburg for the USA v Ghana round of 16 game that evening. We left mid-afternoon, with Fiona doing the bulk of the driving, and we arrived with plenty of time to look around and find our seats. Unfortunately, even though we had Cat 2 tickets, we were right at the top of the west stand with a chill breeze blowing right at us, which was not doing my cold any favours, so Fiona & I took a walk and found a sneaky warn spot to wait for the game to start.

On paper this encounter looked like a pretty even match-up between the USA and Ghana, neither team really living up to their expectation in the group stages, but both equally able to start putting a run together towards the sharp end of the tournament. We were fully supporting the USA in this match, along with a suitably large contingent of Americans, but all the neutrals and local South Africans were behind Ghana, so there was a good atmosphere in the stadium at kick-off. Unfortunately, it appeared that the USA team were mentally still in the locker-room for the first 5 minutes, and after some shoddy back marking, Kevin-f**king-Prince-f**king-Boateng, ran from the half way line with the ball, straight through the US defence to blast it into the net.... Bugger.

Once again the USA was playing catch-up and in all honesty it looked like the chances they would do it for the 4th game in succession were slim, especially as they nearly let in an identical goal but for a fine save from Howard. For the first half the USA’s midfield were virtually non-existent, with aimless long balls were being lumped up front for Altidore to chase fruitlessly. The second half started better with more engagement from the midfield, with Dempsey and Donovan both playing further forward. This led to a period of determined pressure from the US, which in turn led to Dempsey latching on to a well placed pass, pushing through the middle and into the box, only to be fouled. Penalty.... Donovan stepped up and confidently dispatched the goal, and it was game on again, but as hard as the USA tried, they could not find the required goal and normal time ebbed away and extra time looked inevitable.

Extra time would be a fresh start, a chance to come out and attack and grab a goal and avoid the lottery of penalties, and our hopes were high that the USA could do just that. But our hopes were almost immediately extinguished when Ghana scored almost an exact replica of their opening goal, with a long ball right through the middle, poor marking by DeMerrit, and bang the ball was past Howard and in back of the net. Bugger..... The only positive was that at least there was another 25 minutes for the USA to once again comeback from the dead, but as much as they tried, this fairytale was not going to happen. We stood at the top of a cold & windy stand and watched our hopes drift away on the chilly breeze, as we applauded the efforts of the US team and watched the wild celebrations of the Ghanaian team and their legion of fans.

The game finished at midnight and by the time we made it back to the car and out of the car park, it was past 1:00am. After a two and a half hour straight-shot through the night, over motorways, main roads, B-roads, gravel roads and dirt tracks, we finally made it back to the lodge, physically and emotionally tired and looking for refuge.... It had been a long and tiring day, and this was only the first of another 4-day marathon session.

Part 2 coming soon....

1 comment:

  1. Good to see you back on-air. Interesting photo of the fair haired NZ supporter holding what looks like the Maori flag. Yes the NZ Team has had good press and a lot of support here too. We looked for you in the crowd....