Thursday, July 1, 2010

Catch-up Part 2: Today is Sunday so this must be Gold Reef City...?

Day 2 of our 4-day ‘mega-match-watching’ marathon was mercifully at the closer venue of Soccer City in Jo’burg, with a potentially epic encounter between Argentina & Mexico. Before that was another big game, England v Germany at 4:00pm, that we wanted to squeeze in somewhere before we had to physically head to the Soccer City Stadium for the 8:30pm kick-off. Therefore I concocted a plan to head into Jo’burg at around midday, starting off by visiting the Apartheid Museum which was situated not too far from the Stadium, followed by finding somewhere to watch the England Game, and then when that was finished, we would make our way to Soccer City for our live game.

Some plans work well and some fall apart, (I should know...!), and in the scheme of things, this plan was one of the better ones that turned out to have some excellent additional benefits... Upon arriving in the vicinity of the Apartheid Museum we noticed that there was some of the World Cup 2010 ‘Park & Ride’ signage for ‘Gold Reef’, a parking facility we had not come across before. So we followed the signs and found out that for 100 Rand we could not only park there for the ‘Park & Ride’ to the stadium, but that it was right next to the Apartheid Museum where we were going anyway, and a Theme Park and Casino, plus we also got into the museum for free... Bonus...

So we parked up and headed into the Apartheid Museum and spent an hour and a half looking around this world class museum. The place was enormous with some thought-provoking and well put together displays. Half way around the museum was a special exhibition about the life and multi-faceted roles of Nelson Mandela in the struggle along the road and the eventual arrival at freedom. I reckon this exhibit itself would take an hour and a half by itself, and as we had made a plan to head to the Casino to watch the England game, we went through it at some speed not really even seeing the 2nd half of the museum. We met up outside the entrance at the agreed time, all feeling that we would need to come back to see the rest of the museum to do proper justice to it.

The Gold Reef Casino only added to the adage that Casino’s all over the world are now designed to the same homogenous design, with the predictable labyrinthine layout, a blur of fluorescing lights and the whirring sounds of slot machines slowly stealing the money from undeserving punters. The saving grace of this place of excess was that it had a full size theatre showing the England Game on a huge screen for a reasonable sum. Had we had an inkling as to how the game was going to play we would have stayed in the Apartheid Museum, where it is debatable that there was less horror on show than in England’s back four. For 20 minutes we held our collective breath but it was only a matter of time before Germany sliced England open through the middle and proceeded to stab in a goal. A second dissection and scalpel like finish just after the half hour point put England down-and-out, and even the beer in my glass was beginning to taste of defeat.

When Upson climbed highest to head one goal back, and Lampard’s phantom goal was seen by everyone except the 4 officials at the game, we started to imagine we could see the thinnest shred of desperate hope dangling in front of us... Could we..? Could we possibly..? Was there a chance of a come back...? No sooner than the 2nd half had started was the question answered as any dreams of a famous turn-around were mercilessly dispatched with clinical precision by the German attack, who removed any remaining vital organs from our hapless defence, and castrated all possibility of mounting any comeback. Bugger... Double-blind, dead-dog, Bugger....!! The less said about England and their expectations the better, and roll-on 2014.

After eating in the Casino we made the transfer to the stadium with ease and simplicity, and found our seats for what we hoped would be an exciting game between two teams with flair, skill and desire. There must have been something in the South African air that day that was set to rob us of seeing a fast and close game, as no sooner had Mexico gone behind to one of the most offside goals in the history of the World Cup, than they committed virtual suicide with a disastrous back-pass that even England’s defence would have struggled to accomplish. At 2-nil down, any chance of Mexico making a game of it had evaporated, and the final nail-in-the-coffin came in the spectacular shot from Tevez that just fizzed off his boot and into the top corner of the net. Mexico got a consolation goal late in the piece but the game had been effectively over after the first 30 minutes, and our hopes that Mexico would run Argentine close came to nothing. Our only consolation for the day was that the ‘Gold Reef Park & Ride’ was so well organised and efficiently run, that we were out of the stadium, in the car, and leaving the car park within 1 hour of the end of the match. With the motorway only a few hundred meters away, we were soon flying back through the suburbs of Jo’burg & Pretoria in no time, and we made it home before 1:00am, which when considering some of the other late nights we had had recently, felt like an early night...!

The other thing we discovered about the ‘Gold Reef Park & Ride’ was that it also serviced games at Johannesburg’s other World Cup venue, Ellis Park, which was good news as we were scheduled to head there for Brazil vs Chile at 8:30pm on day 3 of our 4-day marathon. We did take the time to chill out in the morning and early afternoon, before making our way to a local restaurant, (called ‘Dros’...) for a late lunch/early supper, and then on into Jo’burg. We arrived with plenty of time to spare and Fiona & I took some time to look around the Ellis Park stadium and even at some of the sponsor exhibitions and displays that we had rushed past at so many of the previous games, before making our way to our breezy seats. Once again the game did not deliver on its promise, with Brazil vs Chile failing to live up to our lofty expectations. Chile had looked exciting and vibrant during their group games, whilst Brazil, even though they had made their way through the group stages with ease, had been laid back and leisurely in their games. I had hoped that Chile would be able to give Brazil a hard-fought and close attacking game, but in the end, once Brazil had gotten themselves ahead the result looked inevitable, and Chile could not even muster a consolation goal. At the end of the game we were happy to leave the chilly stand as quickly as possible and make our way back home. Again, our consolation was that the Park & Ride was even more efficient than the previous night and we were in the car and on the motorway within 40 minutes of the end of the game, and home just after midnight.

I think it’s a fair indication that by this time in our marathon game watching schedule, we have become both tired and even a little jaded. The thought that we may have been trying to do too much in such a short period of time, has certainly passed through my mind at least and I think this may have influenced my expectation of some of the games. However the positive news is that the next game, Paraguay vs Japan, would not only be the last game for a few days, but it was also at Pretoria, the closest venue so far, and had an early 4pm kick-off. In order to have some time to grab some lunch before the match, we left the lodge around 1pm and made our way to the exceptionally well organised Eastern Park & Ride, and were soon sitting on the veranda of Nando’s in the Fan Zone, devouring a large quantity of spicy chicken. With less than an hour to go we made our way along the Fan Walk, through the security cordon and turnstile, with enough time for Yates to sell his spare ticket and for us to pick up a handful of beers.

The Loftus Versfeld Stadium is an old-fashioned styled venue with tightly bunched seating close to the pitch, much in the same way as a lot of the older English football grounds used to be. Even with our Cat 3 tickets we were quite close to the pitch and we were sitting next to a group of Chileans to one side, a German on the other, some local South Africans in front, and group of Americans behind us. There was even a group of locals in front of us that had gone to an enormous amount of effort to support the Japanese by dressing in full Samurai & Geisha costume, which was most impressive. It seemed that there was a great crowd in for this match and regardless of how the game was going to be played out, everyone was there for a good time. Thank Goodness for that because the game itself was nothing to write home about, even if it did go to extra time and penalties. In the end, an unlucky penalty that hit the crossbar was the only thing that separated the two teams, and Fiona & I agreed that had New Zealand beaten Paraguay in their last group game, Japan would have held little threat to our brave All-Whites, and they would have easily been sitting pretty in the last 8, (some wishful thinking was also applied here....)

Just over an hour after the game we were in a bar ordering pizza’s and beer and gearing up for the Spain vs Portugal game on the TV. Fiona had kindly agreed to drive home so I was making the most of not having to drive and enjoying bottle after bottle of the recommended Hansa Marzan Gold. Finally, a game that lived up to our expectation of a crucial World Cup Game, with Spain taking the fight to Portugal from the first minute, in what was cagy & tight affair that was never dull and full of shots and action. Eventually, Spain got the break they deserved with the sublime David Villa shooting initially with his right foot, blocked by the keeper, and then netting the rebound with a deft left foot chip, showing his supreme balance and creativity. By this time we had developed a casual friendship with a table of locals next to us who were supporting Portugal, or to be more precise, Christiano Ronaldo, and we swapped witty banter about the quality of their team & players until full-time. Great game....

Today and tomorrow are rest days for us, (and the football teams as well, coincidentally), and catching up on this blog is the only thing I have planned for today, except for enjoying another meal at the lodge tonight, and maybe another few glasses of port....?

1 comment:

  1. It sure looks like you enjoyed and had the time of your lives during that game! It surely pays to arrive early to watch these games as you also get to avoid the crowds that would gather at the turnstiles.