Thursday, June 17, 2010

On the Ground: France vs Uruguay

A new calendar started last week Friday. Each day only has three times of any importance, 13:30, 16:00, and 20:30. Everything in between is empty space to be filled with pregame or postgame analysis. Even at the office we've set up a projector to watch the games during business hours.

The opening game was phenomenal, and everyone in the country was behind the team. What a goal from Tshabalala. Whatever else happens in the tournament, the first goal in the first African World Cup has been scored by an African. Of course, I was in the car driving back from the babysitter's because we forgot all my kid's damn toys, but it sounded very exciting on radio, and I blew my vuvuzela as I went by the traffic camera on the freeway.

When I first went to pick up my tickets I heard that the city was going to be doing park-and-rides for the games and the fan park, which was really surprising since that institution had never been put to use in South Africa before now. So I wasn't sure if it would be better to try it out or take a time hit and ride the train. In the end we parked at the University of Cape Town (no problems) and were on the bus within 5 minutes (no problems). When we got downtown, we were directed to the stadium shuttles just across the street (no problems) which took us to Green Point within a few minutes (no problems!). For those of you not accustomed to African infrastructure, the fact that it took less than 35 minutes between parking our car and getting off the bus at the stadium is nothing short of a miracle. I was really impressed at how smooth it all went.

The atmosphere was fantastic. Portions of the city are closed off for public viewing of the games, and there's also a fan walk which goes about 2.5 kms (about 1.5 miles) and takes you from the bus station through to the stadium. When we got to the stadium we could see the fan walk was packed, but we wanted to get inside. After a few minutes waiting to get through security, where they first used a UV light to check for hidden markers on our tickets, we were in the outer stadium. Loads of milling about, loads of excitement. Boerwors rolls and overpriced Budweiser abound. We didn't waste time going through the second ticket check where they actually scanned our tickets, and just like that we were at our first World Cup match.

I don't think I could ever really describe exactly what it meant to this country and its people to be awarded the tournament. And after all the doubt and disaster that went into the build up, everything finally fell into place. Even Bafana Bafana had managed to draw their first game. Spirits were at an all-time high, and the vuvuzelas were out in force. It's hard to describe just how loud they actually are in person, but when Thierry Henry stepped onto the field and the noise hit an all-time high, I decided to take out my earplugs. I think the only other way to achieve that kind of assault on your eardrums is to put your head inside a jet engine. It was awesome. Even though France and Uruguay was boring game by most standards, those in attendance couldn't help but enjoy themselves.

After the final whistle we made our way outside and took the fan walk back to the station. It was still buzzing even after a nil-nil draw. Walking at night through the that part of the city was a bizarre experience, but there were police out in force, and it was only when we were a block away from the official fan walk that we walked by some pimps and/or drug dealers. It was a brisk 25 minute walk, then straight onto the bus, 20 minutes back to UCT, and we were at the babysitter's a short 90 minutes after the final whistle. It was an incredibly well run event and showed quite absolutely that FIFA had made the right decision in bringing the tournament here.

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