Monday, July 5, 2010

The First of our Quarter-Final Games

On Friday we made our last pilgrimage to the showpiece stadium of this World Cup tournament to see Ghana v Uruguay at Soccer City. Having discovered the Gold Reef Park & Ride now made it straight-forward to plan the day’s events as we knew it would be easy to get to, Fiona & I could spend a little more time at the Apartheid Museum to see what we had previously missed, plus we could catch the Holland v Brazil game on the big screen at the Casino. Everything went according to plan, we left early afternoon, Fiona & I checked out the museum again while Yates made a donation at the Casino, and I met Yates for the game at 4pm.

Holland v Brazil is one of those classic World Cup match-ups that not only has a long & distinguished history at the tournament, but it also promises to always throw up an absorbing and exciting match, and in 2010 it did not disappoint. Brazil started in their usual steam-roller fashion, pinging the ball around with ease and literally walking through the Dutch defence like it was not there. Little surprise when on 10 minutes, Robiniho waltzed right down the middle, slicing the defence in two and lifting the perfectly weighted pass over the keeper for the goal. One-nil.... Brazil played with such exquisite skill and awareness, and the Dutch seemed in such disarray, that surely Brazil were going to bag a handful more before half-time, and it seemed like a miracle when we reached the break with no further goals.

The old football hacks like to say that football is a game of two halves, and in this case they were exactly right. I dunno what the Dutch coach must have said at half time, but Holland came out in the second half a team transformed. Now the Brazilians seemed to have lost their touch, passes were going astray, and the Dutch crept slowly back into the game. Their big break came when a mix up in the Brazilian defence led to Melo and the keeper Caesar getting in each other’s way and contriving to let in the weakest of own-goals. One-all, and now where the Brazilians had been all over the Dutch in the first half, the Dutch were all over the Brazilians and were looking to put themselves ahead. The inevitable second goal came from a cleverly worked corner that was flicked-on at the near-post and nailed in at the far-post by Sneijder, the style of which I have not seen since the 1980’s.... By now I was hoping that the Brazilians would pull their collective fingers out and make a game of it, but when Melo was sent off for stamping it put the final nail in the coffin for Brazil’s World Cup challenge for this year, and the 5-times winners went out of the competition with their tails between their legs.... This was a great game that lived up to its classic billing.

After that, I doubted that Ghana v Uruguay would be able to live up to such a lofty height, but I was wrong. The crowd at Soccer city were nearly 100% behind Ghana, Africa’s last team at this tournament, and the green, yellow & red flags, with their black stars on, flew from every corner of the magnificent stadium. Ghana started very nervously, allowing the Uruguayans the bulk of the play for the first 30 minutes with a few good moves and the occasional shot towards target. But as time moved on so the Ghanaians found they feet and started to mount a few attempts of their own, and just on half time, Muntari collected the ball just inside the Uruguayan half, the defenders stood off, allowing him to move the ball forward a few yards and let loose with a low hard shot that just pinged into the bottom corner of the net. Wow... One-nil, and the dream of an African side in the semi’s was still alive.

Second half and the Uruguayans came out strongly, pressuring the Ghanaians and creating a hatful of chances, before Forlan stepped up to take a free kick some 25m out from goal, and just plant the ball inside the upright for the equaliser. Now it was game on and it was end-to-end stuff with each team coming close, but towards the end of normal time the Ghanaians seemed to gain the upper hand and mounted a full-on assault on the Uruguayans goal, but they were unable to make the breakthrough they needed, and we headed towards extra-time. We hate extra time & penalties, not just because of the perceived injustice or belief that a game of this magnitude should not have to end this way, we hate it because it means all that and that it will make us an hour and a half later getting home... Extra time is usually a cagy affair with neither team rarely willing to commit to winning the game in favour of trying to not losing the game, which results in a dour series of two, fifteen minutes periods, when seldom a result is obtained. This naturally leads to the worst way to settle a game, penalties.

On this occasion though, extra time was anything but dour as both teams appeared to really go for the win in an end-to-end battle to the end, in attempt to avoid the indignity of penalties. In the last few minutes of extra-time Ghana had an excellent chance of grabbing the winner with a couple of excellent shots going close or deflected by the defence, then a bullet header went just wide. Finally in the very last added minute of the game, a goal mouth scramble led to 3 chances for Ghana to score, each one defended off the line with the last being cleared by Suarez with a cynical hand ball. Penalty....and Suarez was shown the red-card. This was it, this was Ghana’s golden ticket to the semi-finals, all they had to do was convert the penalty kick and they were home and dry... Gyan stepped up and blasted the ball off the cross-bar and missed..... Aaaaagggghhhhhh....! The huge cry that went up from the crowd must have been audible around the world, as the dreams of a billion people were shattered. In the ensuing penalties, Ghana threw away their chance of progressing further with a couple of poorly taken spot-kicks as the Uruguayans clinically took the game.

How sad... Ghana had every opportunity and some to win this game, but in the end they just could notc step up and finish the job. We left the stadium somewhat dejected to start our journey home, arriving at 1:30am still pondering what might have been.....

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for another good post Steve.
    Not sure how much longer you have there but I hope you guys will make the effort to go visit Sun City? (There are Casinos there too :-)
    So - what is your prognosis of the museum? I am intrigued by the morbid facination you display of a murderous and cold hearted killer who in today's world would surely have been tried under the war crimes act instead of the "luxury" of incarceration (as opposed to a sudden bout of accidental lead poisoning)

    "Ah but that we could swap the pasts for better futures for all mankind"

    (Not that communism ever benefits anyone except those already in power :-)

    So, when do you leave? Annelize has extended her stay by 4 weeks and now only flys up to Jhb on the 23rd and then leaves for NZ on the 27th.
    Will be staying over a few days with her brother.

    Catcha later