Since I last posted we have had a whirlwind of activity. Brother Dom has joined us so that the D’Amato brothers are together again for the World Cup after a 16 year hiatus (Dom wants to give a shout out to the fans at Mayline); we’ve attended 3 additional matches and we’ve ventured into the “bushveld” to view the local wildlife and learn a little bit more about South Africa.
Four quick soccer observations to share:
1. Italy may very well have been the worst team in the entire tournament. It’s hard to disagree because they finished in last place in arguably the worst group in the Cup. They were listless and played without passion or inspiration. Back to the drawing board.
2. Everybody should be very proud of the U.S. team and the way that they performed (more below).
3. Argentina, hands down, has the best fans at the tournament. These aren’t regular, everyday fans. They are professional supporters who come well prepared and in big, big, numbers. They are so serious about soccer that they were buying Dave beers because he was wearing a Germany jersey and Germany had just destroyed England, their sworn enemies.
We were very fortunate to be able to see the U.S. team twice (v. Algeria in the group stage and v. Ghana in the round of 16) and it was well worth it. They were well organized, solid in defense, controlling in the midfield and explosive on offense. I’m not sure how it looked on T.V., but from
where we were sitting in the stadium in Rustenburg, the U.S. were the better team that had more chances to win the game.
Fans from all over the world stopped us after the game to comment on how well they thought that the U.S. team had played. They have undoubtedly earned the soccer world’s respect with their performance. In the future they will be a team to be reckoned with.
The field at Rustenburg has been an interesting topic of conversation in South Africa. The stadium was built in the middle of an impoverished squatter’s settlement outside of Johannesburg. In fact, there are several shacks that still line the road to the stadium as a reminder of the poverty that is still omnipresent.
The Royal Bafokeng stadium has no intended use after the World Cup but was an effort on the part of the country to rejuvenate a struggling community. To us, it was a logistical nightmare that resembled soccer’s version of the “field of dreams.”
Like our venture to Rustenberg, getting out of Johannesburg has been quite interesting as well. While Johannesburg and Pretoria have been relatively modern cities that would feel at home in the States or Europe, you need to travel only a few miles to remember that this is Africa.
The streets and roadways are packed with locals trying to make a living selling everything from chickens to oranges to cheap knock-off sunglasses. We passed several squatter settlements that consist of row after row of sheet metal shacks that were full of the hustle and bustle of everyday life.
The highlight, of course, was seeing soccer games with local kids on dirt-covered fields. You don’t need to see zebras and giraffes (although it’s really cool to see giraffes in the wild) to know that we are a long way from home.
Yesterday we attended the match between Argentina and Mexico at Soccer City. The stadium is the most noticeable visual of this World Cup, designed to imitate a traditional African clay pot. 85,000 fans attended the game with the Mexicans being far outnumbered by the Argentinians and the neutrals who have adopted Argentina as their team. Carlos Tevez from Argentina tore up the Mexican defense and their explosive attack was too much for the Tri-Colores to take (despite the fact that he was obviously off-sides on the first goal).
Our seats were almost in line with him on the play and it shouldn’t have been a difficult call. What has become obvious watching these last couple of games is that the great teams do not necessarily dominate the run of play. Instead, they play steady until the other team makes a mistake, and then they make them pay dearly.
By the way, Shakira is starting to grow on me. Saw her video in 3-D the other day. Waka – Waka, this time for Africa!