Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Last of our Live Matches

The day of our last live match had arrived and we would be making our way to Ellis Park to see Paraguay v Spain later that evening. It’s funny because having tickets for 14 games seems like a lot before we started, but suddenly here we were with the majority of them behind us, wondering how they went by so fast. I guess one of the reasons is that we did see a burst of 10 games in 5 different stadiums in 13 days which seemed to go by in a blur, but now that we are at the sharp end of the tournament and facing the last of our matches, it’s strange to think it will be another 4 years before we see another...

Anyway, the bulk of the morning and early afternoon we spent relaxing before making our last visit to Gold Reef City, where we would watch the Germany v Argentina game before catching the Park & Ride to Ellis Park for our final live match. I have the drive in and out of Gold Reef City down to a fine art and can do it door-to-door, even in Johannesburg’s heavy traffic, in about an hour and three quarters, so we rolled up in perfect time to get to the Casino and stake a place at the upstairs bar, right in front of a large flat screened TV. From this excellent position we had an uninterrupted view of the Germany v Argentina game, could order beer via the waiter and even order food..., which of course we did as we settled in to watch the game.

Being genetically pre-disposed to a nationalistic dislike of the Germans, in sporting terms only of course, and in revenge for them decimating England’s World Cup Hopes, I was hoping that Maradonna and his merry band of Argentine superstars were going to open up a can of whoop-ass on this young and petulant German team, and give them a good old fashion thrashing... Gulp...!! After only the first few minutes it became pretty obvious that we were going to need a biblical intervention in order for the once fancied Argentine team to pull off a win of any description against the rampant German team that was laying siege to the Argy’s goal. Minutes later the faintest of touches from the big head of Mueller took the deftly floated free-kick past the hapless Argy keeper and into the back of the net... One-nil... For the rest of the first half, I watched in muted disbelief as the Germans dominated the midfield, cut Messi out of the game, and mounted serious pressure on the opposition goal. Argentina only had a mere handful of half chances going the other way, including a comical disallowed goal where 4 Argy’s were in an offside position, not that stopped them appealing as if they had just had the greatest injustice of all time perpetrated against them.
At one-nil there was always the possibility of a comeback, if Argentina could just get a goal early in the second half things could turn around like they did for the Dutch just 24 hour earlier, at least that’s what the desperate optimist inside me thought... Dejected and depressed I ordered another beer and a very large plate of pancakes and ice cream at half time, hoping that would make me feel better. No sooner than the second half had started, the Germans started banging in goals left, right and centre, and by the time my consolation pancakes had arrived was the game effectively over, and I think I missed the 4th goal as I slurped down the last of my dessert. Fair-play to the Germans who put on a commanding display of attacking football and came away deserving victors in a classic destruction of a promising Argentine team. At least England had scored 2 goals against the Germans, if you count the ‘phantom’ goal...., small consolation I know....

There was little queuing tonight at the Park & Ride and we were at Ellis Park in no time and following the usual routine of finding a toilet for Fiona and a beer pit-stop for me. Our seats were high up and almost behind one of the goals for our last game, which I thought were the worst seats we had had all tournament, but at least we were near the front edge of the stand with a surprising amount of legroom. It was obvious that the majority of the impartial fans and locals were going to be supporting Spain for this match, and because I had been disappointed that the Paraguayans had not allowed New Zealand to beat them in their group match and denied them the chance to be here instead, (assuming a win over the feckless Japanese), I wanted to see David Villa & co get past these tough and defensive South Americans.

At this point I think I should warn you against coming to me for football betting advice, because out of the previous 8 ‘Round-of-16 ‘games and the 3 Quarter-Final games that had been played to date, I had only predicted 3 correct results out of 11 games. Betting should be done from the head, not the heart...! Therefore I was somewhat foolishly predicting that Spain would win this game 4-nil, based on their results to date in the competition, their sublime and intricate passing & possession game, and their world-class attack pairing of Torres & Villa. It soon became obvious after the first 15 minutes of this game that form and history would count for nothing, and that Paraguay were going to be no easy-beats. Spain just did not look like the well-oiled machine that we had seen earlier in the competition, their passing was below standard and the defence looked nervous and shaky, And likewise the Paraguayans, far from being the ultra-defensive low-scoring team we had seen through the group stages, were playing a more expansive and attacking game than we had seen before. Although the score remained nil-nil at half time, the Paraguayans had seen the best of the chances, but if they could nick a goal early in the second half, they would turn the form books upside-down, and Spain would be in a world-of-trouble.

The second half started much the same as the first, cagy defensiveness from both sides with the occasional attacking move coming to nothing. When Spain subbed-off Torres first, then Alonso, (who was having a woeful game), and brought on Pedro and then Fabregas, the game took a turn and suddenly we had an open and flowing end-to-end game of football at last. Midway through the 2nd half, Paraguay sprang the offside trap, sent an attacker through only to be fouled in the box. Damn, I didn’t want Paraguay to score and no sooner had my silent pray left my lips than the Spanish keeper safely guessed the right way and saved the resultant penalty... Woohoo... Seconds later, the Spanish were attacking our end of the field and Villa neatly side-stepped his way into the Paraguayan box only for him to be brought down for a penalty...! Villa stepped up to take the 2nd penalty in as many minutes and coolly slotted it home, before the ref adjudged the kick invalid due to encroachment and made him take it again. This time Villa fired the ball to the goalies left where the keeper was handily placed to neatly scoop it up for another fine penalty save. Two penalties minutes apart, both saved, this was remarkable...., and this now had all the hallmarks of a game that was going to extra-time and maybe even penalties. No......, please don’t let it go to extra-time, I wanted to be in bed before 2am....

At last the football Gods must have thought it was time to cut this lowly football fan a break, and granted me my final wish of the evening, when in the 83rd minute, right below our noses, in an intricate but convoluted attacking move, the Spanish contrived to hit the post twice before the ball finally trickled across the line from the boot of David Villa for a late winner. And much rejoicing was had in the stands of Ellis Park, and possibly in many other places around the world, as the final whistle blew and the spectacle of Germany v Spain in the semi-Final was now a reality.

From our seats in Ellis Park to the door of our suite at Abloom took a mere 2 hours to achieve, and we were safely tucked up by 12:30am, with the last of our live matches behind us, and only 6 more games of the 2010 World Cup left to play. Now that attending matches was all over for us, there was a slight melancholy feeling that wouldn’t it be nice to see maybe a another game or two, but the reality is that we have been very lucky to see what we have seen, and that 14 games is more than enough....!

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