World Cup Diary

Bye Bye Brazil, Hello Cape Town

By - Jul 3rd, 2010 01:14 am
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At least since 1982, FIFA has produced a video that chronicles the World Cup tournament from beginning to end. I remember the video from 1982. (I think it was called Goal.) Sean Connery narrated. FIFA did a tremendous job of showing game replays, fan reactions and tournament highlights. It ended with Italy hoisting its third trophy. We must have watched that video a thousand times.

It not only captured the pace of the tournament for the teams and players, but also displayed what this frenetic soccer pace does to a fan: The frantic first round, with its three games a day; the hope and despair as fans see who goes through to the next round; the beginning of the knock-out stage to determine who belongs and who’s pretending.

The video also captures the collective sigh of relief as the soccer world catches its breath in between rounds. For a couple of days players and teams rest, regroup and prepare. Fans do the same. They take a break from soccer and regroup to plan the remaining days of their trip. This is when they discover  that they’re in a different country that offers something other than soccer.

We’ll get to that after a few soccer notes.

Our last game of the second round was Brazil v. Chile.

Dom and Mike promote journalistic collegiality with a Brazilian reporter.

Brazil are an unbelievable squad, and we were happy to have been able to catch them live. Their work ethic, combined with their skills and uncanny ability to track and predict their teammates’ locations and runs were inspiring to watch. Brazil handled Chile; it will take a great game by a team that plays hard, disciplined defense and still has some offensive punch to beat them.

Perhaps the Dutch are just such a team who can hold them to a goal and use Robben to blow past Lucio and company to pop a couple in. [Editor’s note: Mike’s musing on Thursday proved correct Friday, when the Netherlands came from a goal down to beat Brazil 2-1.]

We went into the game rooting for Chile because their small but dedicated group of fans were intensely behind their team. For those keeping count, Chile would be the third team we adopted. Maybe the worse possible curse for any team at World Cup 2010 is for us to get behind them. Italy, the U.S., Mexico and now Chile have fallen victim to our support.

Post-game, our hopped on a plane for the 2.5-hour flight from Johannesburg to Cape Town, to enjoy the best that South Africa has to offer.  This World Cup be the catalyst that transforms Cape Town into one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. It’s cosmopolitan, walkable and offers unmatched natural beauty.  And I was there in the dead of winter!

Among the more fleeting of Cape Town’s attractions was the spirited clash between Portuguese and Spanish playing out at waterfront bars. Both groups were represented on our flight. (We all watched together, in flight, as Paraguay beat Japan in penalty kicks.)

On the ground, the Portuguese fans acquitted themselves very well in the battle of singing, chanting and costuming that went on in the bars. The fans did better than the team. What we hoped would be an exciting match between two quality teams turned out to be one-sided Spain’s way.

Cape Town offered World Cup fans a more convenient experience that Jo’burg. Johannesburg sprawls and requires a cars, buses and trains. Compact Cape Town staged all World Cup activities within a mile of downtown shopping, bars and restaurants. The atmosphere was more festive and concentrated, more like the World Cups we’ve enjoyed in Europe.

Beyond the Cup, we took in the stunning beauty of the coast leading to the Cape of Good Hope and taste-tested wines at several local vineyards. After two days, we all agreed on the need to return for a more thorough exploration of the city and nearby natural areas. We saw penguins, seals and baboons all in their natural settings in one afternoon. (It is true what they say about the baboons. Beware.)

Next up for us: The Quarter-Finals, Uruguay v. Ghana and Spain v. Paraguay. Then it’s back to the U.S.A., on the 4th of July.

Here are Mike’s predictions, submitted before the results:

I pick the Dutch to upset Brasil (Dave and Frank think I’m nuts). (Not crazy, just right. — ed.)

Uruguay over Ghana. (Mike called it right, again.)

Argentina to beat Germany, in what should be a historic game. (Coming Saturday.)

Spain over Paraguay. (Coming Saturday.)

Categories: Sports

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