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

February 19, 2012 2 comments

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.

Been there, done that, got the vuvuzela!

Article from Hoops Scene (July 5) Shamrock Rovers against Saint Patrick’s Athletic:

Hoops Scene contributor, Macdara Ferris, spent the recent break taking in the greatest show on earth…

“Tonight it is back to a home Airtricity League game for me after I spent the mid-season World Cup break at the World Cup in South Africa. I had actually booked and paid for World Cup tickets for Ireland matches nearly 18 months ago. The disappointment of Ireland’s play off defeat was tempered somewhat by the refund of the cost of the tickets from FIFA a few days after the away game in Paris. So despite Thierry Henry’s hand ball antics a group of eight of us travelled out to the FIFA World Cup in South Africa anyway including some Shamrock Rovers fans (myself, Kevin Daly and Paddy O’Connor). A flag was made up in honour of Sepp Blatter with “Team 33 on Tour” which got much comment wherever we went including getting a mention in the New York Times no less!

Having attended one game at the France 98 World Cup, travelled out to Japan/Korea in 2002 and spending a few days in Germany in 2006, I was luckily enough to be making it a four in a row at the World Cup. It was my first chance to visit South Africa and with match tickets for games in Johannesburg and Pretoria we were trying to ignore all the horror safety stories. In fact, we couldn’t have been better looked after with all the local South Africans immersing themselves in the World Cup. This started right from the flight out with South African Airlines where all their staff were in World Cup mode wearing the South African team kit at check in. They even handed out ear plugs for the flight and the vuvuzelas. I’m a proud owner of an official World Cup 2010 vuvuzela now, green in colour of course, but I think I would be lynched if I brought it to Tallaght!

The first game we attended was the host nation’s defeat to Uruguay. It was an amazing atmosphere at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria. Listening to the South Africans sing their anthem was hairs up on the back of the neck stuff. Sadly they couldn’t replicate the form of their opening game. For Uruguay, Diego Forlan scored a cracker and then he silenced the vuvuzelas when he scored from the penalty spot before Uruguay grabbed a third.

The next day we went to the amazing Soccer City stadium to watch Argentina play the Korea Republic. An incredible stadium with a capacity of 95,000. Sadly like all the games we attended there were several thousand empty seats with most blaming FIFA and sponsors for not selling the tickets appropriately. There was several thousand South Korean fans at the game but a multiple of that from Argentina. Flags hung off every available space in the five tier stadium, one of the very best I have been to. It was a great game with Leonil Messi running the show, Higuen slotting away a hat trick and the living legend that is Maradona prowling the sidelines. We had the whole carriage on the train back into Jo’burg singing “We all dream of a team of Leonil Messis”!

Everybody staying in our hotel was out for World Cup. Australian fans (who brought 15,000 fans to South Africa), Americans, English, German and Brazilian. The Americans we met had traveled out in huge numbers to support their national team but didn’t seem to show any interest in their own domestic football league which reminded me of somewhere close to home. Out next game saw their USA team come back from two goals down to level with Slovenia before a very poor refereeing decision robbed them of a famous 3-2 win. We had the Shamrock Rovers and Team 33 on Tour flags hanging at all the games and I’m told Gabriel Egan gave the Shamrock Rovers flag a mention at that game in Ellis Park. The following night we traveled back up to Pretoria to watch Cameroon be eliminated by Denmark 2-1.

The next day we took the opportunity of taking in a tour of Soweto (which is adjacent to Soccer City) which was a real eye opener. Everybody was very friendly (many wishing us happy Father’s Day for the day that was in it) and we saw how so many South Africans live with our guide showing us her “house” which shares one communal toilet and tap with 39 people living in the area. However, there is still a mix of incomes in Orlando West where we went to as on the same street the owner was out washing his fairly new BMW car. We traveled by local bus to Soccer City that evening for the game between Brazil against Cote D`Ivore. The setting of Soccer City with the sun setting behind the orange coloured stadium facade was incredible. As we were getting some photos of the stadium, the RTE team of George Hamilton and Trevor Steven dropped across to say hello. Watching some of the games on South African TV, we have been listening to our own Eoin Hand give his expert analysis sitting alongside George Weah, Paul Ince and John Barnes.

With all the inverted Irish tricolours for Ivory Coast on display outside and inside the ground it was almost like Ireland had made the World Cup. I am sure that Trapattoni wouldn’t have let Ireland make an embarrassment of ourselves like the French did. Whenever people saw the Irish colours during the tournament they always gave us a huge amount of sympathy for how Ireland were eliminated from the tournament. Indeed when we met World Cup winner Frenchman Christian Karembeu after a game, he apologised for the hand ball incident and told us the Irish should have been in the tournament. As it turned out the Brazil game was probably one of the less interesting games we were at with Brazil coasting through the game with a helping “hand” from Fabiano. Only a late Drogba goal raised the energy but Brazil won 3-1.

I managed to pick up a category 4 locally priced ticket for the Italy v Slovakia game which was the final one I attended. 140 Rand or about 15euro gets you a seat in the second highest row in the stadium. The Italian team never really got going until they were too far behind a Slovakian team who punished the Italian mistakes going 2-0 up. The Italians came back into it with Pirlo off the bench trying his best . They got a stunning goal to make it 3-2 and pushed for the equaliser which would have put them through but it never came. The World Champions were out and it made it 24 goals from the six games I attended.

I did manage to escape the world cup (somewhat) during the visit to South Africa. Despite the vuvuzelas and the friendly South African stewards, the World Cup is it’s own self contained kind of city which can be transported to any Coca Cola drinking, McDonalds eating or Hyundai driving location. Having said that the Mexican wave seems to be going the opposite way – something to do with being in the southern hemisphere maybe! I spent a couple of days on safari and the last few days in Cape Town amongst other things I watched games in local bars or in the FIFA Fan Fest in Grand Parade square (where Nelson Mandela gave his speech on the day he was released from prison in 1990 – I also took some time to visit Robben Island where he spent 18 years). Watching England being destroyed by Germany was very entertaining as was viewing Argentina, Holland and Brazil who all look worthy winners. Next Sunday will see the World Cup Final and will determine who will be bringing the trophy as holders to the next World Cup. I’m looking forward to Brazil 2014 already!”

There is something about Gabrielle

Just catching up on some of that media whoring over the World Cup. Fair play to Gabrielle Marcotti and Gabriel Egan who spotted the Irish flags on display at the World Cup.

Gabriele Marcotti (from Corriero della Sport, Sports Illustrated, Financial Times and sometimes putter in his place of Ken Early on Newstalk’s Off the Ball) was busy on twitter giving our flags a mention at the Cameroon v Denmark game in Loftus Verseld (http://www.sports-tweets.co.uk/tweet/16564129475)

Shout out to the fans who brought banners… from all over, inc: “Team 33 on Tour” and “Shamrock Rovers” (EIRE)

Meanwhile on RTÉ’s coverage of the USA v Slovenia game, Gabriel Egan gave us a shout out.

“Incidentally we have a noticed a few of tricolours up on display in this ground on the upper tiers of this ground and indeed I can see a Shamrock Rovers banner away over on the far side. So Robbie Keane and Co. mightn’t be here as a team but you can’t keep the Irish at bay when there is a game on.”

(41:25 into programme or 25:25 into first half) http://www.rte.ie/player/#v=1075155

Also, picked up in the RTE “As it happened” text updates:

26 mins Plenty of tri-colours around the stadium here at Ellis Park according to RTE commentator Gabriel Egan. A Shamrock Rovers flag in amongst it as well by all accounts. Hope the lads make it home in plenty of time for the Shamrock Rovers European adventure later in the summer.

http://www.rte.ie/sport/soccer/2010/0618/worldcup_livetext_fri_18june.html

Getty Images got this shot during Cameroon v Denmark game in Loftus Verseld:

Mr. Daly Snr’s still from the same game:

Special mention to Kev for his moment in the sun in the New York Times match report on the Uruguay v France game (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/12/sports/soccer/12francegame.html)

France failed to advance out of the first round at the 2008 European Championships. And in order to qualify here, it needed that hand ball from Henry that led directly to its late and decisive goal against Ireland.

The Irish have not forgotten. Domenech fielded a question from an Irish reporter Thursday about whether the French deserved to be here (the answer was “oui”).

And among those in the capacity crowd of 64,100 on Friday were Kevin Daly and a group of young Irishmen dressed in green and carrying a large poster that read “Team 33”: a reference to early suggestions from soccer officials that Ireland just might get to be the 33d team in the World Cup after the injustice of its elimination.

That never materialized.

“We bought our tickets a year and a half ago, and obviously we hoped that Ireland would be here, but when we ended up with France tickets, we thought obviously that it was a great chance to protest,” said Daly, a 26-year-old from Ennis who works for a public relations firm in Dublin.

Anyone for the last of the World Cup updates

It is just 24 hours to the end of my World Cup but is has been a memorable last few days and trip overall. I took in a classic World Cup upset, was last man standing in Jo’burg and made a move down to Cape Town with it’s more welcoming atmosphere.

I picked up a category 4 locally priced ticket in our pension/hotel for the Italy v Slovakia game. €15 gets you a seat in the second highest row in the stadium. A seat beside some very annoying English fans who despite being surrounded by Italian fans insisted on shouting things like “get up you cheating I-tie diving cant”. Thankfully elsewhere  we have met some decent English fans at this tournament (like other competitions). The Italian team never really got going until they were too far behind a Slovakian team who punished their mistakes. 1-0 down at half time, it got worse after. They pulled a goal back but another error allowed the subs first touch get them 3-1 up. Pirlo off the bench tried his best and Italy got a stunning goal to make it 3-2. They pushed for the equaliser which would have put them through with New Zealand getting another draw in the other game but it wasn’t to be. The World Champions out.

I said goodbye to Jo’burg the next day and everything I have seen on Cape Town means I’m not exactly missing JB. Little example of the night the South African sports minister was at the game I was at watching South Africa lose to Uruguay somebody broke into the minister’s house robbed it and then set it on fire! I was the last of our group of 8 to leave Jo’burg and we managed to leave with all wallets in our possession something I couldn’t manage at the world cup playoff in Paris! No more games for me but at least I won’t have FIFA checking what is on the flag or as they did to some of the lads check their leprechaun hats didn’t have Guinness written on them (not a FIFA sponsor).

With Table Mountain shrouded in cloud, I hiked up to the slightly lower Lions Head and signal hill during the weekend. Magnificent views across the Cape with the Green Point World Cup stadium nestling below. With Ghana being the only African side to make the knock out stages, the locals have thrown their support in behind Ghana. I watched their extra time win in a restaurant on Long Street. In homage to the 2002 World Cup, it was a sushi bar. Nothing like grabbing your food off a conveyor belt.

For me Sunday was the big game between England & Germany and a trip to Robben Island. That was certainly emotional as I joined a large group to see that story unfold. How a group of men battled and won their place in the quarter final, well done Germany! I usually avoid Irish pubs on my travels but with so many English at the Fan Fest thought it would be better to go to the Dubliner which is close to where I’m staying. However, it seemed to be mostly English there but it didn’t stop me celebrating their embarrassing defeat, made even better by the ridiculous over the line shot by Lampard.

The trip out to Robben Island was amazing. It is a sombre place despite the incredible view back towards Table Mountain. A former inmate gave us the tour. A man who served time for planting a bomb in the secret service HQ which injured 47 people. He also outlined how he was tortured (beaten, electrocuted and given cigarette burns in unmentionable places – policemen testified to this at the truth commission). We saw the lime quarry where “Mr. Mandela” spent 8 hours a day breaking stones and his small 2m x 2m cell. It is amazing to think how far South Africa has come in the last two decades.

This morning I got the train down to Simons town as was treated to three different “preachers” screaming at the top of their voices about repenting before the lord. They operated some tag team system so when one was finished the others joined in. Most of the carriage didn’t seem to mind and when some hymns were begun everybody joined in. Can’t see that happening on the Luas or Dart.

I went for a mornings Kayaking down to Boulder beach where the African penguins hang out. They bobbed into the water and swum around the kayak. Bit bizarre especially with the south African navy on manoevres in the area as they are based in Simons Town. Managed not to get mown down as they left the harbour as we were coming back in.

Sitting down to view Holland game at the Cape Town fanfest.

Escape from Soccer City

June 23, 2010 1 comment

I have managed to escape the World Cup (somewhat) over the past few days. You see despite the vuvuzelas and the friendly South African stewards, the World Cup is it’s own self contained kind of city which can be transported to any Coca Cola drinking, McDonalds eating or Hyundai driving location. Having said that the Mexican wave seems to be going the opposite way – something to do with being in the southern hemisphere maybe! So it is good to get away from it for a bit. Sunday saw an eye opening trip to Soweto and then followed on with a trip up to Kruger National Park over the past few days.

We left the novelty Irish hats behind us on Sunday for the trip to Soweto but a bunch of eight Irish guys strolling through Orlando east is a bit of a novelty. As was being wished happy fathers day by a number of kids during the morning! We used local combi taxis and some shoe leather for our visit. Our guide brought us into her “house” where herself and her husband live with her 13 year old daughter. Let’s just say that my bathroom is bigger than there house. 13 corrugated shacks are squeezed into a plot of land behind a small brick house. One communal toilet and tap serves the 39 people living in the area. But there is a mix of wealth. On the same street the owner was out washing his fairly new BMW.

Everybody gave us a hearty hello be it the auld WANs on way to church or the guys on the corner selling toilets. Lots of local enterprise on the streets with outdoor barbers or lads pushing shopping trolleys with their wares (think Bubbles from the Wire having a whitey sale).

We took in the hector Pieterson museum which tells the story of the Soweto student rising of 1976 through the story of Pieterson who was shot by the police for demonstrating against the move to educate through Africana rather than English. We cooked up our own lunch in a local buy and braai. Tasty stuff.

The game that night was in Soccer City adjacent to Soweto so we got a local combi bus to take us. But it is all about park and ride so the taxi couldn’t get anywhere near to the ground leaving us with a 30 min walk which eventually took us past the ESPN and ITV studios which over look the stadium. As we were getting some photos of the spectacular sunset beside the stadium George Hamilton wheeled up his RTE suitcase to say hello. Eventually Andy spotted former Rangers and England international standing beside him so there were more handshakes all round.

With all the inverted Irish tricolours for cote d’Ivore on display outside and inside the ground it was almost like Ireland had made the world cup (if we had I’m sure Trap wouldn’t have let us make an embarrassment of ourselves like the French did).

As it turned out The game was probably one of the less interesting games we’ve been at with Brazil coasting through the game with a helping “hand” from Fabiano. Only a late Drogba goal raised the energy but Brazil won 3-1.

We blagged our way into the media area which was right beside out seats. Goggs spotted the Arsenal manager and when he pointed to him Arsene Wenger gave us a wave. He wasn’t the only Frenchman to notice the invading Irish supporters. Former international and world cup winner Kristian Karambeu (like so many we have met) told us the Irish should have been in the tournament and went some way to help relationships by posing for a team photo with us followed by handshakes all round. We settled in the BBC commentary position with the headphones allowing us to listen to Alan Hansen back in the studio. When the man from the BBC arrived we cleared out.

The last three days have been spent on safari up in Kruger park. It has been mornings up before 6 each day to spot the animals but has been well worth it. I joined up with a group of 5 others ( a Scottish Rangers Aussie and his Aussie Peruvian girlfiend), an American from NY and a spurs supporting dad and daughter). We managed to see 4 of the big 5 with lions, buffalo, rhino and hippo plus elephants and giraffe. No real escape from the football as even on the night drive we were getting updates on another French capitulation.

I’ve managed to get my hands on a cat 4 local ticket for face value of €15 for Italy v Slovakia tomorrow. Should be a good one…

The goals keep on coming

Another couple of cracking games in the last 24 hours. I have managed to see 15 goals in four games that I’ve been to. FIFA should hire us to go to games to get the scores up. They could also organise selling some more tickets to avoid all the empty seats, oh and a transport system to ferry fans to the game would also help. Touch of the jokeshops about the match transport. We got left high and dry in Pretoria tonight. Not the best to be wandering around at midnight trying to hail a cab to get back to Jo’burg 50 kms. Made it in end.

Friday was a great game with the Yanks coming back from 2-0 down and they really should have won. Don’t know what the disallowed goal was about. Love to see time wasting teams get punished but Slovenia hung on for a point. I believe Gabriel Egan gave a shout out to the Shamrock Rovers flag at that game.

We got the flags on the telly tonight with the “Team 33 on Tour” and my Rovers flag behind the goal in Loftus Versfeld. More goals tonight but Cameroon were very hard done by to be eliminated. If they got rid of that awful number 10 Emana it might have helped. It has taken four games but it was the first spot of a Mexican wave tonight much to Kev’s disgust! First spot of Karl Spain of the world cup today.

Other memorable moment was Paddy getting up on stage at the fan fest where they were getting people to show some ball skills. He did 3 keepey ups and then went “have it” and booted the ball towards the moon! The look on the face of the fan fest hosts has to be seen to be believed. Hoping to get it up on you tube at some stage.

We are still much amused by England. You couldn’t make it up. Algeria who were thumped by Ireland could well have beaten England. As it stands they are in deep trouble. Moment of the game was Heskey’s hilarious step over. Much amusement had by all as we tucked into burgers and ignored the Portuguese South African fan at the adjacent table. We also had to have dinner in bar called Capellos in Pretoria today.

Sowto tour and another trip to soccer city and Brazil v Cote d’ivoire. Wish us luck.

South of the border

June 18, 2010 3 comments

It has been a hectic couple of days at the World Cup but I wouldn’t have it any other way. We checked out defeats of South Africa and Korea but they were two very different games. Amazing atmosphere in Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria for the host nations second game. Sadly they couldn’t replicate the form of the opening game. Listening to the South Africans sing their anthem was hairs up on the back of the neck stuff. Diego Forlan got a cracker and then he silenced the vuvuzelas with a penalty kick. I’m a proud owner of an official World Cup 2010 vuvuzelas now, green in colour of course!

Yesterday was just a classic World Cup day. Started with a light jog through the cbd or downtown to get to train to take us to Soweto. Taxi stuck in traffic so we had to hustle a few blocks. Train packed to go out to soccer city. Incredible stadium with capacity of 95,000. Lots of Koreans but there must have been 15,000 Argentinians. Flags hung off every available space in the five tier stadium one of the very best stadiums I’ve been in. We got the Shamrock Rovers flag up on second tier along with the “Team 33 on Tour” flag as seen in the New York Times. Indeed the lads I’m with were quite popular for photos with their leprechaun hats and Ireland jerseys with 33 on the back! My Shamrock Rovers jersey was being worn proudly. Great game with Messi running the show, Higuen slotting away a hat trick and the living legend that is Maradona prowling the sidelines. We are back to Soccer City on Sunday for Brazil v Ivory Coast.

Everybody staying in our pension in Melville is here for World Cup. Great crack with the Aussies (who have 15,000 fans at the cup), Americans (who have nearly as many) and some Brazilian. We all went out to a bar/cafe to watch the French game. The second Mexico goal sparked a mini stage invasion for an impromptu celebration for the French defeat, petty I know but very cathartic. Judging by every Irish persons facebook status updates last night we weren’t the only ones to enjoy that result!

Worldcup Macdara