South Africa 1-1 Mexico; Uruguay 0-0 France

Posted: June 11, 2010 in World Cup
Tags: , , ,

It has begun. For the last couple of nights I’ve genuinely had a bit of trouble sleeping, such has been the excitement for this tournament. I reckon it’s as excited as I’ve been about a World Cup; for the first time in my life everything is pretty settled (previous ones have been offset by moving to London, finding a new job, doing my A Levels, and being too young – in reverse order) so I can just watch and enjoy the festival of football.

First stop, South Africa.

I was going to go here, but beforehand I had a little time to kill so thought I would do so by eating my lunch in Trafalgar Square. I surfaced from Charing Cross station to the sound of vuvuzelas. There was an enormous screen set up by Nelson’s Column, huge flags and even a large Zakumi mascot (god damn you Zakumi, I am sick of the sight of you). And, even at about 1pm, plenty of South Africans. The skies were grey but my Northern roots instantly pointed out that “outside = free, Springbok Bar = money” and I resolved to watch the match on the big screen as long as it didn’t piss it down. An hour later the sun was shining and about 15 minutes after that I had my usual Englishman sunburn going on.

Pretty much straight away I realised I’d made the right decision. Clearly more effort had gone into organising this “event” than it had in publicising it. There was a genuine party atmosphere right from the moment I arrived with scores of colourfully-clad South Africans blowing horns, banging drums and dancing to their own particular beat. Zebra, lion and giraffe puppets were all being paraded around the crowd – a very “London” mix of tourists, South Africans, Mexicans and people like me and the missus who just wanted to watch the game and experience the atmosphere. A brilliant South African opera singer was a definite highlight and even some lame “freestylers” couldn’t dampen the mood (they really were quite crap).

The opening ceremony was the usual dancing nonsense and unusual national symbols. You have to really wonder what they’ll have if/when England host a World Cup again. The failed suggestions for the London 2012 Olympic mascots were very revealing (cup of tea, Big Ben, pigeon – honestly). But, when Jacob Zuma (and, I must admit, even Sepp Blatter) were giving their speeches, I did genuinely feel like I was witnessing something culturally, perhaps historically significant. It was so easy to remain detached from Japorea that this feels like the first World Cup I can remember that really matters (culturally) to the host nation, as in this could potentially be a watershed moment in the nation’s short history.

So, to the match itself.

I was cheering on the Saffas, which is an odd experience for me as I routinely detest their cricket team (apart from Andre Nel and “Dangerous” Dale Steyn, who are cool). But, as the host nation and definitely the “home” team in terms of fans in Trafalgar Square, it was the right thing to do.

Mexico instantly looked exactly as they had done against England a few weeks ago; much, much better and probably likely to win by a comfortable margin. Giovani Dos Santos seemed intent on making a mockery of my “not good enough for Ipswich/looks like a girl” comments from that game at Wembley, frequently breaking into space and posing problems, although he was denied by a phenomenal goal-saving tackle by Mokoena. Franco fluffed a couple of headers before being played in by a delicate chip from Vela, but the Saffa keeper Khune did well. Dos Santos fired wide and it was all Mexico apart from a few enterprising moves involving Siphiwe Tshabalala, one of which flew six inches over his teammate’s head as the half wound down and South Africa got a bit of a foothold.

I’d like to pause at this moment to say two things:

1) Vuvuzelas are really, really annoying! One guy was blasting one next to us and I could feel my internal organs vibrating

2) Siphiwe Tshabalala might be the best named footballer at this World Cup, after Swiss duo Tranquillo Barnetta and Benjamin Huggel.

The second half was about 10 minutes old when the match, the stadium, Trafalgar Square and the World Cup burst into life.

It was a superb counter-attack, sharp passing from font to back culminating in a terrific through ball that set Tshabalala on his way. Shabba still had plenty to do but his first touch was solid, and his second touch buried the ball in the top corner in an incredibly carefree, risque effort that seemed to do away with any home-nation-pressure and just say “you know what, fuck you guys, HAVE THAT!” He positively nailed it; if he could have picked up the ball with his hands and physically plant it into the net he wouldn’t have been able to do so with any more accuracy. Jim Beglin on ITV said “if Brazil had scored this goal we’d all be absolutely raving” (or words to that effect) and he was spot on; it was a great goal.

Trafalgar Square went crazy; quite apart from all the English rooting for RSA, all the actual South Africans were leaping about all over the place. It was a pretty cool moment. Even if it did inspire more vuvuzeling.

Unfortunately the jubilation didn’t last; Mexico scored the goal they’d been threatening, finding themselves in a bizarre 3-on-1 situation on the six yard line. Rafael Marquez did the necessary, but there was still a chance for South African glory when Khune’s long kick (his kicking was phenomenal all game, Peyton Manning would have been chuffed with this level of accuracy) set Mphela away but the poor bastard half-scuffed his shot and it bounced to safety off the post with the Mexican keeper pulling a face that said “ooooooooooothankfuck”. Head in hands all round. But certainly enthusiastic applause from all parties, be they Mexican, South African, English or otherwise, at the final whistle. It had been a cracking start to the tournament.

At this point I 100% knew I’d made the right call in watching the match here, as the screen now said “WE WILL BE SHOWING NO OTHER WORLD CUP MATCHES HERE”. Only one match and I caught it? Re-sult!

After the sunshine and the partisan support, the Uruguay v France match was slightly anticlimactic, although offset by beer, a nice location and some moderate anti-French sentiment from English in attendance.

There is apparently one place in London to support Uruguay during this tournament, and it’s the Buen Ayre in Broadway Market. This place looks like a great place to go for a meal, but perhaps not for football. It was in the middle of bloody nowhere for starters, plus it looked pricey and generally not the sort of place I frequent for the watching of the beautiful game. Plus it’s actually Argentinean. Stretching this “all of South America is the same” attitude to breaking point, we opted for Barrio Central instead. Yes, it’s a Mexican bar, but apparently it is also a “South American” bar. No, there were no Uruguayans in it or, if there were, they were very quiet and either speaking English or not watching the game at all.

How many Uruguayans do you reckon there are in London? It’s a country with a population of barely 3 million, and as such it’s probably the least-represented nation in terms of ex-pats in London aside from maybe Honduras (bigger than you think; that’s Top Trumps knowledge). Anyway there were none in Barrio that I could see; just Francophobic English. Of which I am neither proud nor ashamed to count myself among their number.

Nice place, Barrio Central. Smallish, friendly, big screen and a back-up TV in a downstairs area. Book a table if you ever decide to go, if you’re lucky you might get the giant Rubik’s Cube one. Neat.

This was an odd game. Uruguay played three up front, Diego Forlan (who would make my “Are They Pretty Men Or Ugly Women XI”, I reckon) and the apparently shit-hot Luis Suarez among them, yet often found their forward line completely stranded with Sagna and Evra able to bomb on as a result. France have shitloads of good players but seemed intent on playing them in unusual positions or swapping like-for-like forwards instead of supplementing their attack. You can blame Domenech for that I suppose – don’t worry, you won’t be alone.

It had been pointed out to me beforehand that Uruguay’s full name is “Ten-man Uruguay”, perhaps even “Battling Ten-man Uruguay” at a push, so even though I was cheering for them it was a minor delight when one of their subs was shown a red card. France couldn’t capitalise; they looked pretty good without ever creating anything past Govou’s early miss. That aside, Forlan had the best chance when he got a great connection on his 12-yard first-timer but saw it fly a couple of yards wide. Other than that, Uruguay were worryingly defensive for a team playing three forwards; they surely need to be a bit more adventurous against South Africa and Mexico if they are to progress.

So there we have it. Day 1 of the 2010 FIFA World Cup, and a more-than-satisfactory start with some great excitement particularly in the earlier game.

There are three games tomorrow, but for me there is really only one. England v USA, in an English boozer with some English beer. I didn’t get the chance to do this 2 years ago. My new £2.39-from-ebay England shirt from 2006 is washed and hanging next to me as I write. It’s supposed to be sunny again. We’re expected to win the game but not in the way that we would have been in 2006.

I cannot wait.

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