Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Falling on their swords

After I made a few wrong turns and missed the turn on the highway (I blame my navigator!), we eventually made it to Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria for the second round clash between Paraguay and Japan. The security checks at these games have become increasingly laughable. The sight of police officers in body armour are in contrast to the apathetic body searches conducted at the gates. I've walked straight through before without anybody questioning me. This time, they made a cursory check of my pockets but seriously, considering the amount of things I've seen smuggled in to PSL games in peoples' socks, you'd have thought that security would have cottoned on by now. But they haven't. If the metal detectors went off, the stewards didn't seem too interested. FIFA also told us that we would need our ID along with our match tickets but I've not needed it once.

The giant Japan shirt in the stands just before kick off

This time I managed to avoid eating rubber sausage as they still had some pies. Much better than the last pie I had at a football match (Cowdenbeath v Clyde - Scotch Pies have a lesser meat content than the rubber hot dogs!).

If the game was dull, the Japanese fans were in full voice. In the stand below me, one of the hardcore Japanese supporters was constantly on his feet, megaphone in hand (does FIFA really allow them in the ground?) and leading the supporters in chants of "NIPPON! NIPPON!" A fixture featuring two "smaller" teams was unlikely to have many travelling supporters but South African fans came out in force, most of whom were supporting Japan as the underdogs.

 Leading the Japanese support

I clutched my Japan scarf tight as I watched the penalty shootout unfold. Agonizingly, Yuichi Komano's spot-kick cannoned off the crossbar and the Japanese fans around me collapsed in their seats in despair. With Paraguay coming out on top 5-3, the first thing these fans did was to stand up and applaud their team as the players walked over and reciprocated the sentiment. Tears were welling up in their eyes as they struggled to come to terms with the end of their World Cup journey. With my sparse knowledge of a few Japanese words, I shook their hands in commiseration, stopping to hug one fans for whom defeat was clearly too much. They cheered up enough for some photos but stayed behind, shell shocked. Strangely enough, I was more cut up about this defeat than Bafana or England getting knocked out. I hope I get the opportunity to watch Japan live again.

Celebrating despite defeat

So all my teams are now out: Bafana and NZ in the group stage with England and Japan falling at the second round. I'm supporting Ghana now, although I fear that may just be the kiss of death.

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