World Cup Diary

The South African adventure begins

By - Jun 26th, 2010 04:00 am
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Getting there

Milwaukee to South Africa‘s a long trip.

Left to Right: Frank, Dave and Mike flying to South Africa.

I left home Monday, June 21, at 7:30 a.m. Milwaukee time. We arrived at the Johannesburg home of Johann Roos, our host, at 6 p.m. local  time Tuesday, June 22. That’s 20 hours in the air and 28 hours door to door.

The leg from Washington, D.C., to Dakar, Senegal, is shorter than the leg from Dakar to Johannesburg. Africa’s big.

Our hosts, Johann and Ben Roos, and Ben’s son Alto, have been extremely gracious. Johann’s home in Kempton Park will be our home for the next 14 World Cup days. Johann will also be our driver and bodyguard.

U.S. v Algeria

Frank and Captain America celebrate the U.S. victory.

Imagine taking a bottle of champagne, removing the foil and the wire securing the cork, and shaking it up as hard as you can. Then, place it on the counter and watch the cork work its way out over the next 92 minutes. It seems so ready to pop sometimes, but no. Anticipation piles upon anticipation.

Finally — finally — BAM! The cork flies and the champagne flows.

Such was the scene when Landon Donovan tucked away the rebound for the winning goal against Algeria in Pretoria to win Group C and advance the U.S. to the Round of 16.

In this well-played game, Clint Dempsey lost a goal to a poor off-sides call and squandered at least three other golden opportunities. Donovan, once again, had to be the hero. Dempsey, Altidore, Gomez, Bradley tried, but in the end Donovan had to take matters into his own hands. But do note that Wisconsin’s own Jay DeMerit was a rock in defense and did much to secure a victory.

Before the Game

Mike D’Amato, right, pre-game with his new Algerian friends.

We started our first day by driving 45 minutes from Johannesburg to Pretoria in an attempt to secure tickets to the game. Pretoria is the nation’s Capitol and home to a major university. It has the feel of a Madison, Austin or Columbus and has a large population of middle-class government officers and professors.

The ticket dispensary was in the Brooklyn Mall. (It looks like Milwaukee’s Grand Avenue, but has the occupancy rate of Mayfair Mall.) Brother Frank and I quickly purchased legal tix from FIFA — tickets were actually plentiful — and headed toward the stadium.

Algerian fans, certain of victory, soon outnumbered us. U.S. and Algerian fans mixed in a fun and engaging way without a hint of conflict. That is the way of the World Cup; violent incidents between fans are very rare.

Friend and fellow-traveler Dave, veteran of seven Cups, has seen just one fight. In Germany, a group of drunken Aussies insulted the Queen. Nearby English fans, of course, had to protect the Queen’s honor.

The thrilling U.S.-Algeria game was a tremendous start to our adventure. We followed that with a trip to historic Ellis Park stadium (think stadium in movie Invictus) to see Italy v. Slovakia. That one turned out somewhat less exciting — especially for the Italians.

South African officer helps Mike celebrate the U.S. victory.

Categories: Sports

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