18.06.2010 - 26.06.2010
Durban definitely had benefits - comedy value: On arrival we got directed to park on the 10th story of what turned out to be an 8 story car park, which pretty much had us collapsed in helpless laughter after having driven onto the roof. More importantly, it mean't that less than a week after almost freezing to death at a game in Joburg, here we were, watching games at the fanzone on the beach, and at the magnificent stadium whilst wearing shorts and trying to avoid getting sunburnt. The Northern/inland venues in winter are cold. The Western coastal locations (Cape Town and Port Elizabeth) are prone to rain and wind. Durban has sun. And with Europe being in the middle of a heatwave which is bound to end before I get back there, some sun was very definitely welcome.
The other great thing about Durban is that the stadium is pretty central, which means that you can walk to it. Along the beach with 50,000 or so crazed Oranje fans. Which is exactly what we did for Netherlands – Japan. Though vastly outnumbered, there were still a fair chunk of Japanese fans around, also fully dressed up and very vocal.
With the Dutch qualified, the guys all flew back to Europe and their wives, fiancees, children and jobs. I stayed. I don't have the ability to fly, or for that matter, a wife, fiancee, child (that I admit to, anyway) or job. Besides, it was the World Cup and there were more games to go to.
The first of the extra games was Nigeria – South Korea. It was one of those games that looks to be of no real outside interest, but in my experience tend to be the more entertaining games of football. Both teams go in with genuine prospects of winning, and in this case as the 3rd group game, was almost a play-off for a place in the second round. And it was a pretty decent game as well. There were chances at both ends, and a miss by Yakubu which will go down as one of the most incredible in World Cup history. It should not have been possible to miss from less than a metre and with an entirely open goal. Let alone from somebody who earns more in a week than most of the crowd do in a year.
In the end, the South Koreans were deserving victors, and their support was both vocal and colourful. Another African team thus went home.
In contrast, my final game in Durban was the single most anticipated game of the entire round: The only non South African game for which tickets could not be got for love nor money. I could have sold my ticket on the way to the stadium for over 3times it's face value, and that was to people shouting offers to passers-by. If I had wanted to sell and made an effort, i'm sure I could have got more. The build up was amazing, the atmosphere incredible. But despite everybody else's optimism, I was convinced the game would be a damp squib. And so it proved. The problem was that it was essentially a meaningless game. Brazil had already qualified, whilst Portugal's goal difference mean't only a vast miracle would see them fail to advance. And even future fixtures were of no help - If it had gone to plan, Spain would be topping their group and would play the runners up: A huge incentive would have existed, to avoid Spain. As it was, the Spanish loss mean't that they could come anywhere between 1 and 3, and with their final game played later, there was nothing any of the Portuguese speakers could do to deliberately avoid them.
I would almost go as far to say that it was probably the worst game of the entire tournament, though there have been a few other equally dire encounters. Based on the group stages, at least, South Africa 2010 will not go down as a classic World Cup in terms of the football. It can only get better, surely?