Thursday, June 24, 2010

Johannesburg Airport

Well, It's time to leave South Africa and get back to California and work. At least I have a whole day in London for one last day of fun.

As you can see in the top picture, there were Zulu dancers inside the airport - It was actually pretty fun and provided a quite interesting airport atmosphere.

Well, It is time for me to board now. It's be real, it's been fun, and it has definitely been real fun.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Final game: USA 1-0 Algeria

Here it is, you can't really ask for a better game for your last one of the World Cup.

Rick and I got up around 7am to start our trip from Bloemfontien to Pretoria, which is just north of Johannesburg. The drive didn't take too long at all, and this time Rick got a chance to have a snooze on the trip.

There is one thing that I'm surprised isn't more dangerous. The way of clearing tall grass on the side of the highway or a field is with a controlled burn. They just light it on fire and let the wind and fire do the rest. I'm surprised that I haven't seen any burned down houses. Unfortunately, this means that stretches of the highway will smell burnt.

We did have to stop in Johannesburg so that rick could grab the keys to the guesthouse he was staying at. He dropped off ALL of his things there as well before we hit the road.

About 10 minutes into the drive we started talking about locations for round of 16 games. Rick has a guide that doubles as a ticket holder in his backpack, so i reach into the backseat to grab it and that's when we realize that he left it at the guesthouse. Good thing we caught that early, as his ticket was still in there. Oops, it wasn't like this was his 11th game so far - you would think he had it figured out that you need a ticket to gain entry....
We got into the stadium about 90 minutes before kickoff and we spotted Marcel in the stands. The place was actually starting to get quite full, with lots of Algerians and Americans. I have been impressed at how well supported the USA has been in South Africa, there were so many people here from the USA that came out just for the World Cup.
The game itself was fantastic for a neutral and put us USA fans on a roller coaster ride that thankfully ended with a sweet return to the station instead of flying off the tracks. It actually looked like it would do that early on when a defensive mistake resulted in Algeria blasting the ball off of the crossbar when he looked odds on to score.
As you know, Landon scored in injury time to send us to the round of 16. When the goal was scored, i was jumping up and down with one foot on my seat and one on the seat back in front of me just shouting "we did it" over and over. It has to be the most overcome I have been with emotion this entire trip.

The USA fans stayed in the stadium for another 30 minutes celebrating, which was a fantastic show of support. You can even see Marcel here waving his scarf and loving every last second.

The US team came over and had their celebration in front of us as well. You really could tell how much this meant to the entire team, even those who haven't played a single minute yet.
From here, we went to a place called Hatfield square where there was a mini fan-fest thing set up. It wasn't a FIFA one, it was just one that was done by the city in this square that was full of bars and restaurants. On the way out of the stadium, there were still hundreds of USA fans still jumping, singing, and dancing. It really was a wonderful sight to see. I took this picture about 45 minutes after the final whistle.

Hatfield Square was a rocking place and it was packed with a good mix of Americans, South Africans, and Algerians. There was no trouble to speak of, everyone just wanted a good night out. We all watched the evening games, and we got great match ups out of them. USA get to play Ghana, who beat us in Germany 4 years ago, and in probably the tie of the round (for a neutral) England will take on Germany.

We stayed out in Hatfield Square until almost 3am. I can't even remember the last time I was out until after 10pm! I guess that's what being responsible will do to you. Believe it or not, I was actually pretty responsible despite being out so late. I did manage to get ribs and hot wings from a fantastically named restaurant here!

I also recognized another guy who is doing a world cup blog. I saw the cowboy hat and said "Is your name Jeremy?" Of course it was and we had actually been reading each other's blogs. Here is where you can find his:

Well, it has been a fantastic two weeks of soccer, friendship, and education. I got to see some old friends, make some new ones, and see what a World Cup and do for a country. I do hope that South Africa can follow the progress they have made here - not just on the field but off it as well.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

South Africa 2-1 France

Hello from Bloemfontein!

Tonight was a bittersweet night here. The host Nation put up a brave fight, but were not able to pull of the near impossible task of getting to the next round. Since they only won by a single goal, Mexico proceeded to the round of 16 on goal difference. It was great to be there for the game that South Africa won in the tournament, and the locals were proud of their team and their nation. It isn't a small feat for an African country to beat one of Europe's powers in a World Cup.

The day started out quite early again with Rick picking me up at my place a bit before 8am. This was the first day so far that I wasn't doing all the driving - in the last two weeks I have driven about 1,500 miles - it has all been worth it though. This drive was 250 miles from Johannesburg to Bloemfontein, and it seemed to go quite quickly. I think the reason it went quickly, is because I slept the first half of the way before taking over the driving so Rick could have a nap as well.

We are staying at an absolutely lovely guesthouse (with awesome shower) here owned by an angel of a woman named Retha. She and her son Roelof and daughter Sylvia have been taking excellent care of us and we are lucky to be in such a place. One day Rick might actually be able to take Sylvia out for a drink - I'll keep you updated on that one!

Now I'll try to get some sleep. I'm very anxious for the USA-Algeria game tomorrow. I almost said that it'll determine if this trip was a success or not, but I have seen and done so much in the last two weeks that this will definitely be a trip I'll fondly remember for the rest of my life.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Spain - Honduras + Visiting Soweto

Today was a pretty full day!
Got a start around noon to head over to the part of town where my friend Rick is living right now. Him and I went out to watch the Portugal - North Korea game on TV while having pizza. The place that we went to for these things had some interesting choices, that's for sure!
The game didn't go the best, and Portugal ended up winning 7-0. That's pretty brutal.
We did not yet have tickets to Spain-Honduras, so we used his GPS to find a mall that had a FIFA Ticket Center. Only thing was, the GPS thought it would be a great idea to take us right through the most dangerous parts of Soweto.
Soweto was like a completely different world that I didn't know existed. It was hard to believe that minutes ago I was on a regular road in what seemed like a regular city, and then all of a sudden I was in an area where the is an amazing amount of crime and poverty, mostly due to there being no real available education for the residents. I must admit, I was a bit scared driving through there even though it was daytime. People still get carjacked and killed in the daytime. Following Rick's request (he was the driver) I did not wear a seat belt through Soweto - this was so that if we were carjacked, i could get out immediately. People have been shot for taking too long while fiddling with their seat belt
One place we did stop in Soweto was the Hector Pieterson museum. We did not take a tour, but we did walk around and see the memorial. Hector Pieterson was a 12 year old boy who was shot by police when the opened fire on students on June 16, 1976. I did talk about this briefly in my June 16 post. The above and below pictures are of the monument.

From there we visited the FIFA ticket collection site. We were trying to get tickets for Spain-Honduras, but the system was giving our lady and error whenever she tried to book them for us. In a great turn of events, a few tickets for South Africa - France were re-released. We swooped in and picked up two of them. I really didn't think I had a chance at seeing the host nation play while here, but I'm thrilled things worked out this way.

We did a lot of walking around the stadium and talked to a lot of people - many looking for tickets - but we finally were able to buy some outside the stadium. We got to our seats after kickoff, and luckily, the seats were pretty fun - we were right at the corner flag in the first row.

Spain won the game 2-0 and I headed straight home. It is about a 250 mile drive to Bloemfontain where Rick and I will be seeing Bafana Bafana play against France. I'm really looking forward to it.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

World Champions Italy 1-1 New Zealand

FANTASTIC! What a great day it was today watching New Zealand hold Italy to a 1-1 draw.

Well Marcel and I were going to our 2nd "away" game together in two days. This one was Italy - New Zealand, and it was in a place called Nelspruit (pronounced like Nell Sprite). The drive was a little over 200 miles each way, but it was extremely worth it. Nelspruit is in the east, not far from Mozambique and Swaziland.

Since it was a far drive, and I was unsure of what the road conditions would be, we started from Johannesburg at about 10am, six hours before kickoff. We were pleasantly surprised that the roads the entire way were in great condition. This is mostly because the two main roads we took were toll roads and obviously taken care of.

We did see some interesting things along the way. There are several nuclear powerplants between Johannesburg and Nelspruit, and also, the most popular way to remove overgrown brush by the road is NOT a mower, it is by a controlled burn. We saw a lot of fires going each direction where they were just burning away the growth.

After a couple hours, we made it to Nelspruit and the Park and Ride. This city KNEW what they were doing - unlike all the others ones so far. We were able to easily park and then catch the bus to the stadium.

This is the one stadium I was most looking forward to seeing. The supports for the stadium are actually done in the shape of a giraffe. I really was something to behold. I think it is probably the most interesting feature I have ever seen on a stadium before.

While the outside of the stadium are Giraffes, the inside is zebra. This is actually a picture from after the game, but I wanted to have one where you could see the design of the seats.

The game started extremely well for New Zealand. They scored only their 2ng goal in their World Cup history after only seven minutes. It doesn't look like Italy coach Marcello Lippi is very pleased at all... Italy did manage to pull a goal back from the spot, but they couldn't get another one past New Zealand, so it finished 1-1.

With a just a few mintues left before the final whistle, most of the New Zealand fans started taking off their shirts and waving them above their heads.As you can see from the 2nd picture, it wasn't just the guys who were doing it, either!

For New Zealand, the game was as good as a win, and their team did a "victory" lap saluting all of their fans. It isn't every day one of the minnows of world soccer plays such a game against the current World Cup Champions. The NZ fans even stayed inside the stadium cheering and celebrating for almost an hour after the final whistle.

Even New Zealand Prime Minister John Key (on the right) came over to where all the fans had assembled to pay homage to their support. NA coach Ricki Herbert is the one in the suit also saluting the fans.

Tommorrow will be a rest day for me in the beginning, but the night game tomorrow I'll be going to and that is Spain - Honduras. With the way things have been going, you never know what'll happen!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Australia - Ghana

Another full day today. This one included Monkeys, Sun City, and Australia-Ghana!

This day started off a bit earlier than most with me picking up Marcel at about 9:30 from his hotel. From here we started the 100 mile drive from Johannesburg to Sun City, which is the little resort place I had visited earlier with Aghas and Mallory. From there it is an easy 20 minute drive to Rustenburg, the location of Australia-Ghana.

Halfway though the trip, we saw a sign for a place called "Bushbabies Monkey Sanctuary." This place sounded too good to pass up, so we decided to have a look.

The place ended up being a whole lot of fun. There were about 70 monkeys of a few different species living inside this enclosure. Two of them spent a lot of time following our tour group. One was a little Monkey that I named Chester and the other was a Spider Monkey named Sara. This little guy having a bite to eat is Chester and the one climbing across the rock face is Sara.

The monkeys were quite friendly and curious about us. At one point in the beginning, one monkey quickly jumped on Marcel's shoulder and Chester quite a few times was trying to grab the ottom of my pants while I was walking.

From here we went to Sand City to grab a bit of lunch before the game. While we were waiting for the tram from the parking lot to the main area, we met some Australians that we helped take a picture for. We had a nice talk with them and then said good luck as we went our separate ways when the tram stopped. Marcel and I both had a tasty lamb schwarma for lunch.

Since we didn't have too much time, I gave Marcel a quick tour of Sun City. When we popped over to a section called Lost City, we ran into our Australian buddies again. We helped them take pictures, so i snapped one with my camera as well! It was definitely a money themed day so far as this large fountain showed us:

We did a last bit of scouting for a place to have dinner after the game, and then we departed for Rustenburg and the day's match.

This was my 2nd time using a park and ride for this stadium. The first one was at USA-England and it was a total disaster. We used a different lot this time and hoped for different results. Going to the game was easy enough. We got parking fairly quickly and got the bus to the stadium. We ran into some Ghana fans who let us in on a little bit of inside information that we didn't know:

While we were in the stadium, we did get another little bit of a surprise. While I was watching something the video board, something caught my eye. A few rows in front of us a over a bit, there was someone waving up to Marcel and I. It was our Australian buddy that we ran into before the tram, in Sun City, and now at the Stadium. We actually ran into him again walking around the stadium at halftime.

There was definitely a large Aussie traveling contingent, you can see just this one part of the stadium during the national anthem is quite full of Socceroos fans!

The match was a very good one which finished 1-1. Oz had Harry Kewell sent off about 25 minutes in for a handball on the line (where was this ref in 2002?) which meant his whole World Cup is going to be about 25 minutes long unless Oz make it out of the group, which is a possibility because the group is so tight after two games.

Marcel and I actually made our way back to the car easily enough. It seems that the organization was about a thousand times better than it was the week before. This was a relief, as I really didn't know what was going to happen for the trip back to the car.

Sun City was easy to get back to and we sat down to have dinner. Sadly, this was not a highpoint of the day. We were seated right away, but it took a LONG time for anyone to take our order. I ordered ribs and Marcel got chicken - we also ordered Calamari as a starter. After about 25 minutes, the manager came by to ask how everything was, and i told him we had been waiting 25 minutes for our starter. He went to go check on it, and just a second after he left, our waiter arrived with our entrees. I told him to go ahead and cancel our starter. This was the first time this has happened without Liz - for some reason her and I often have the main course come before the starter. The food was really good, but it was hard to really enjoy because the service was so garbage.

We went to the "Super Bowl" to watch Cameroon-Denmark. The game finished well, with Denmark winning 2-1. Hopefully Denmark will be able to get the result they need against Japan so they can go on to the knockout stage.

The 2 1/2 hour drive back had a bit of fun as well. Just after we left Sun City, the police blocked off the road at an intersection. The England team bus was going past, so I rolled down my window and held up my USA badge on my jersey to the bus. Several of the England players saw it, and this made me happy.

Dropped Marcel off at his hotel, but I'll be seeing him again soon. Him and I are heading about 200 miles away to Nelspruit to see Italy take on footballing superpower New Zealand.

Sleep time, for soon I drive!

Friday, June 18, 2010

USA tie Slovenia 3-2....

Today was the day of the game that for the last few days I was most looking forward to and most dreading... USA-Slovenia. On paper, it should be an "easier" game, but the USA has never done well against European teams, and European qualification for the World Cup is the hardest to get through!

The plan for the day was to meet up at a place called Radium Beer Hall with a lot of other Americans to have a few beers and get ready for the game. I ended up finding the place alright (thank you, GPS) and when I got there around 11am, the place was already starting to fill up. The game was still 5 hours away. While here I did meet up with Marcel again, as well as my English friend Rick, who now lives in Zimbabwe! The world cup brings people together, eh?

Radium had two levels, one that was mainly seating, and one where the bar was. I took these before the place was at its fullest, as the crowd was later spilling onto the sidewalk.

Since it was lunchtime, I got myself a menu and looked for something tasty. I had read online that this place had a great peri-peri sauce, so I ordered the peri-peri chicken. I figured I was going to get a nice chicken breast and some fries to go with it, but I was in for a bit of a surprise.

The chicken was actually a whole chicken, and as you can see, it was basically cut down the middle and put on the grill. I wasn't able to finish it all without help, but it was pretty damn tasty.

After a few hours of socializing and singing, it was time to head over the the stadium, which was a couple miles away. There was a bus load of American fans in front of me, all of them with their flags out the window. The people on the street were smiling and waving back. As far as I know, no one has had any bad encounters with locals on this trip, which is great considering how dangerous South Africa is. I think the worst so far was a shakedown from the police on a traffic stop.

Finally I got parked and made my way to the stadium. This is the same one that I previously saw North Korea - Brazil, but now it is in the day instead of at night! I must say that this is one of my favorite stadiums that I have been to. It isn't as nice a Soccer City, but I do love a stadium with history.

The game, as you probably know, didn't go the best - but it wasn't the worst. We fell behind 2-0 in the first half. In the 2nd half, we brought it back to 2-2 and then had what should have been in winning goal called back for reasons unknown. No one who has looked at the footage can tell.

The game ended and we were walking back to the car park so we could head back home. Now, this stadium is in a terrible neighbor hood, and the only reason we weren't fearing for our life is that there was a large crowd and police there. We did run into a lost girl who was separated from the area she needed to go to so that should could get back to her hotel.

Rick and I (especially Rick) are nice people and we stopped to help this girl, who is an American named Tina. She was a real sweetheart and with the help of some other South Africans, we found a way to get her back. Because we didn't want to leave her to fend for herself, Rick drove out of his way from where he was going to take her to her company's hotel. What a swell guy! Rick, of course, is the guy in the Arsenal shirt and the girl is Tina.

It took forever to get out of the car park, but we did finally get out and went our separate ways. When I got back to where I was staying I did get a fantastic note from Karen, the wonderful lady who with her husband, are putting me up while I'm here. This really summed it up for me:

Tomorrow should be another exciting day. I'm getting up in about 7 hours to go pick up Marcel and then him and I will be heading over to Sun City before attending Australia-Ghana. This game has major significance for both teams as Germany shockingly lost to Serbia today. I'm really looking forward to it!

until tomorrow!