Home > Four Continent Football, South Africa 2010 World Cup, Travel > Four Continent Football: Part 3 – Africa (Italy v Slovakia)

Four Continent Football: Part 3 – Africa (Italy v Slovakia)

Italy 2 Slovakia 3, Ellis Park, Johannesburg, South Africa (24 June 2010)

There was huge disappointment with the recent postponement of the France v Ireland Six Nations game just minutes before kick off. This of course is not the first time that Irish supporters have travelled to Stade de France and have come away feeling as if they’d been cheated. Back in 2009, I stood there stunned at Ireland’s elimination from the World Cup qualification process thanks to Thierry Henry’s ‘Fagan’-like pickpocketing of Ireland.

I had always wanted to travel to South Africa and the 2010 World Cup was the great excuse to do so but I would be going now as a neutral. My disappointment at Ireland’s elimination was heightened as I already had tickets bought and paid for had Ireland qualified. However with this money refunded to me from FIFA it allowed me to buy tickets for a number of games across one week in Johannesburg and Pretoria.

I could have written about watching the host nation play Uruguay or maybe seeing South American heavyweights of Argentina or Brazil win during the World Cup but the game that sticks in my mind is the elimination of the then World Cup holder France by Slovakia.

These are two teams that Ireland fans know reasonably well. The Italians will always bring a squad bursting with household names but they were even more familiar as it was the Italians that topped the qualification group pushing Ireland into the ill-fated play-off in Paris.

The Azzurri were lucky to have avoided defeat to Ireland when Giovanni Trapattoni’s men drew 1-1 in Bari the previous year. Slovakia would end up in Ireland’s qualifying group for this summer’s European Championships but couldn’t match the expectation that their play and results in the 2010 World Cup gave them.

During my time in Johannesburg, I had stayed in a small Pension Hotel in the Sandton district of Jo’burg. All the other guests staying there were out there for the World Cup. It was great to chat with the mix of football tourists from Australia, USA, Brazil and England who were out supporting their team and also attending some other matches of interest. The Pension was also a good place to pick up tickets for games. I managed to get my hands on a Category Four locally priced ticket at face value for the Italy v Slovakia game.

Having paid top whack of in excess of US$100 each to see the other five games I was at it was nice to pay the equivalent of €14 to see the World Champions play. However €14 doesn’t exactly get you the best seat in the house so it was an awful long trek up to the second highest row in the main stand in Ellis Park. This was the venue where Nelson Mandela presented the trophy to victorious Springbok captain Francois Pienaar after the 1997 Rugby World Cup final.

Sitting beside in the nosebleed section was one of the marketing team from Nike Mexico who obviously hadn’t exactly got a prime sponsors seat. She was quite entertained when I thanked her for her country defeating Thierry Henry’s France team earlier in the competition especially when I showed her the video of the group of Irish fans celebrating their victory in a local Joburg bar.

The Italian team had lived up to there slow starters name in World Cups having drawn their opening two games. They never really got going in this final group game until they were too far behind a Slovakian team who punished their mistakes. The Slovaks took the lead half way through the first half with a goal from Robert Vittek. They double their lead with fifteen minutes to go with Vittek, the Man of the Match, scoring again nipping in front of Cannavaro to finish. It seemed Marcelo Lippi’s were going to go tamely out of the competition having drawn 1-1 in their games to date against Paraguay and New Zealand.

The last 10 minutes were as hectic a finale you are likely to see in a World Cup group game as the two teams scored four goals with each goal momentarily silencing the Vuvuzelas in the 53,000 plus crowd. With second half substitute, Andrea Pirlo pulling the strings first Italy pull a goal back from Antonio Di Natale and then think they’ve equalized but an offside flag means they haven’t. As the World Cup holders push for the equaliser though, Robert Kopunek scores to make it 3-2 to Slovakia as he latches onto a long throw to catch out the sleepy Italian defence.

Italy reduce the deficit to one as Fabio Quagliarella scores with a delicate lob over the Slovak ‘keeper. In injury time the Italians pile on the pressure seeking the equaliser that would put them through to the next round but it isn’t to be. I venture down behind the goal to collect my flag and the Slovakian team are still celebrating down there with their fans. Italy have slunk off the pitch, no doubt wary of the reception awaiting them at home. The World Champions are out and my time in Johannesburg is up. Time to head south for a few days in Cape Town before flying home from the World Cup for another four years anyway.

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