Well, being on a different continent certainly changes things.
After the epic flight from the U.S. to South Africa — 16 hours, including the required putzing around on the tarmac in Atlanta — I arrived just in time to catch the U.S.-Ghana game at a restaurant here in Melville, Johannesburg. I watched with Simon Kuper, who is the author of the excellent Soccernomics and reporting for the Financial Times on the World Cup, along with a few other journalists. I was myself very torn about the match, wanting the U.S. to win and wanting Ghana to win too — it turns out that’s a little tough in football. The restaurant, with the except of a few despondent U.S. fans at our table, had no such uncertainty: they were with Ghana, all the way, and delighted at the flash of Gyan’s second goal. It was tough to feel to down about the defeat in the midst of the happy crowd, or walking home through vuvuzela-blowing, Ghanaian flag waving fans on the street. The only team to make it out of the group phase, Ghana has made one more step. Will they beat Uruguay? “No chance,” said a Spaniard at the table with us. “Of course,” said a South African. We shall see.
After the high of watching U.S.-Algeria back home and following the buzz around our referee-induced victimization in not one but two matches, it was funny to hear that the incident with Koman Coulibaly was a pretty minor thing here. We’ve really made it into the footballing club, it seems: we have our own flare-ups and debates about things that no one else is even paying that much attention to, which also means we’re participating fully, in a way, in the swirling global theatre of the World Cup. Maybe that itself marks how important this moment has been, as Jennifer Doyle notes. And as the Nation notes, there’s much to celebrate in Ghana’s victory.
Arriving in South Africa was wonderful. Everything was extremely easy and well-organized: went through customs fast, got my match tickets, got my car, with everyone helping me along. After the World Cup ends, I’d suggest South Africa send a commission to explain to the French how to run an airport — arriving in Johannesburg was precisely the opposite, in pretty much every way, as arriving at Charles de Gaulle in Paris. They could give a few tips to the J.F.K., O’Hare, Atlanta and La Guardia too for that matter.
The South African Sunday Times, meanwhile, effused about Ghana’s victory over the U.S. Here are a few choice bits from their coverage of the game: “For the US, there was none of that Rambo or Delta Force movie heroics, which the Americans have been pulling at this World Cup.” Ricardo Clark, they wrote, who was pulled out by Bradley in the 30th minute, “looked about as lost as an American tourist in the dark backstreets of Alexandra township.” Ouch. While the U.S. attacked with “more vigor” in late in the first half, “their efforts were more like trying to find Osama Bin Laden.” In the second half, with Mick Jagger looking on, they looked like the “overexcited” singer in “his youth.”
Tomorrow, Argentina-Mexico beckons (along with that little match between those two small European countries).