It’s alarming to even consider, but for the next two days there will be no World Cup matches. After gorging ourselves on football of varying quality for the past weeks, we suddenly have to think of others things to do. Read a book? Take a walk? But to what end and purpose, when all we have known for weeks is the spectacle of the fates of nations unfolding before our eyes?
Last night I feasted on the Brazil-Chile game in the wonderful Ellis stadium, which provides perfect views of the pitch, and a hyper-charged atmosphere in the stands. Not only that, but while Brazil only managed three goals, we managed to send a wave around the stadium four full times, which is really much more impressive since it involved nearly 60,000 people rather than just eleven. Before the match, a group of Argentina fans were holding up a sign announcing: “Diego awaits.” This was amusing to many of us, but not to a Brazilian fan who stormed them and said “What the f–k are you doing here?” Watching Brazil — notably that absolutely perfect-pitch header in the first goal — was a tremendous pleasure, made even better by the nice conversation with the South African accountant to my left and by the presence of a very glum Italian to my right.
Spending this afternoon watching the Japan-Paraguay match, however, was a good way to start the fast, since to put it mildly it was not a very pleasing meal. Indeed, “torture” might not be too strong a word to describe the experience. Ten minutes in I knew for sure it would go to penalty kicks, but tried to convince myself against all evidence that someone might actually score a goal. By the end I was begging, cheering any run by any side, just wanting a goal so we could all go home in time to watch the Spain-Portugal game. But it was not to be.
The penalty kicks were quite dramatic, of course, with Japan team kneeling for the final kick, and both sides taking some pretty cheeky psych-out kicks. And nothing makes me happier than seeing happy Paraguayans. Plus I got to chat with a seven-year-old South African girl who impressed me with her knowledge of all the different players on various teams but then admitted that she mostly “liked how they looked.” The fans really outplayed the players today in that stadium, where the enthusiasm was completely out of kilter with the reality of the game.
Watching tonight’s Spain-Portugal game was good consolation, especially because John Barnes, commenting on South African television, explained perfectly why Ronaldo always stinks in the World Cup: he’s playing with a team that doesn’t get him the ball very often, and so when he gets it he “always thinks he has to do something special,” which he mostly doesn’t. Once again, Barnes hits it on the head. Had fun tonight noticing that, even as he flies to the ground, Ronaldo is already tilting his head towards the referee with a plaintive look: “See how oppressed I am?” That big statue in the Nike ad is not to be, I guess. Thank god.
Still, I’ll probably wake up hungry tomorrow, and by Friday night I’ll be starving, totally ready for the Ghana-Uruguay match, for which South Africa is gearing up especially intensely. Since it is totally acceptable here to just randomly blow vuvuzelas in the streets at any time, I’ll be able to practice my ever-improving skills in preparation for the big day. I’m already having fun imagining bringing one to various sports events in the U.S. and being chased by angry mobs. But why even think of a future beyond the World Cup final, when so much remains to be written on the pitch?