Times reporter Austin Danforth has made his way to South Africa for the 2010 World Cup, giving Alexandria a man on the ground level of the biggest sports tournament in the world. Hed like for you to come along for the ride. During the World Cup, the soccer gets underway at around 1:30 p.m. local time. Its an all-day affair, running until about 11. Once its over though, were left with little time to plan for what we want to do the next day: When to get up, where to eat, what to see, what games to watch. But so far, when we ultimately do wake up in our base camp apartment the optometrists office already humming with the days work to come and get caffeinated and ready to go, the tournament ends up waylaying all of our best non-soccer ideas.
Of course, none of us are complaining. There are still more than two weeks left on the trip.
Before I get too far, though, I have to address the issue of the vuvuzela. Ive bought in. I love it. Mine has a South African flag print covering it and a great little strap so you can sling it over your shoulder. In less than a day Ive gotten pretty good, too.
Anyone badmouthing it needs to get over himself or herself. From what Ive gathered, the discussion has included plenty of whining in the U.S. and elsewhere, and (thankfully) a short-lived consideration to ban the plastic horn from stadia here in South Africa. A much more detailed argument could squash the concerns entirely. At its most basic though, the vuvuzela adds to the atmosphere like nothing Ive ever heard before. Its cathartic. Its a cheer that doesnt bust your vocal chords. When tens of thousands of fans are using them, its just white noise. When you hear a rogue horn-blower in a quiet, cozy suburb while youre drinking coffee over breakfast, its refreshing. You know youre in South Africa at the World Cup.
Through Tuesday, weve been to two of the first 14 games. Our opener, Netherlands-Denmark at Soccer City, almost felt like it wouldnt happen. An overnight power outage prior to watching the Oranje a side featuring several players with ties to my favorite club, Hamburger SV meant we had to put our pre-match logistics work on hold until the morning.
Initially, we struggled to purchase a ticket to one of the park-and-walk locations. Then, golden tickets in hand, we couldnt figure out where the parking lot was in relation to the rest of the world. After navigating traffic backups in three different directions, we parked and found our seats with only about five minutes gone in the game. Finally, after some frantic hustling, we had a live World Cup game a first for all in the group playing out on the field before us.
Tuesday nights game at Ellis Park, Brazil-North Korea, was a fascinating event. We were all excited to see the immensely skilled Brazilians, but, other than a lot of defense, none of us really knew what to expect from the Koreans or their fan base. A playful cheer of yeah, Communism! pointed at some British men wearing the flag of the North Korean capital earned us a witty Pyongyang United, mate! in reply.
The night was breezy and bitingly cold, but a welcome break from the D.C. heat, with temperatures with the wind chill dipping well below freezing. Parking on a high school soccer field, downing a couple of beers and walking a little less than a mile through a residential neighborhood to get to the stadium made it feel like a night for high school football, not World Cup soccer.
Save for Robinhos nimble feet, the first half was a stalemate. The Koreans played with a five-man backline and ten men in front of the ball, giving the favorites little room to operate. The three second-half goals were all strikes worth the price of admission: Maicons physics-defying opener with absolutely no angle on the end-line, Elanos one-touch strike on a brilliant Robinho through-ball and Yun-Nam Jis goal for the underdogs the last coming shortly after a friend offered up an over-under of 1.5 goals for the Koreans in the entire tournament. I took the under. (Good thing theres no money on the line.)
We have other plans scoping out an Indian joint with high marks in Lonely Planet, maybe visiting the Apartheid Museum but already it seems like those are going to be pushed off for another day.