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Pretoria, South Africa

Leaving Polokwane began with yet another delicious meal from McDonalds. For a change, this drive was straight highway all the way to Pretoria, where we were going to be staying at a condo owned by a friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend. To put it another way, a person who lives in the US that I’ve never met before arranged with her friend in South Africa to host 4 people who she had never met before for 3 nights. It took a bit of trust on both ends of the deal, but it sure seems like it’s going to work out perfectly for us.

We arrived at the condo a bit after 11am, and attempted to find an internet café to try and reserve tickets at the Park-n-Ride to take us to the stadium for the match at 4pm. We were told there was one at a mall nearby, except that when we got there, we found out the café was gone, but there was one in another mall really close by. Well, that mall wasn’t that close by, and no one could really give me great directions to get there or anywhere else, so we just decided we’d wing it. When we were on safari, we talked to some other guests who had been in Jo’burg for games, and they mentioned a place to eat called Melrose Arch. As it turned out, while we were driving towards Jo’burg, I spotted it right off the highway, so we exited and made our way to the parking garage there. Total cost for the whole day? $6! Now we just had to find a cab to the match, and we’d be all set.

There was apparently another “Park-n-Ride” nearby, but it turned out that this one cost $50 per person round trip. Ridiculous and absurd. We ducked into a restaurant to grab some food, and they said they would get us a cab after the meal. They did exactly that, and we got a very nice driver in a BMW who took us down to the match as far as he could go without breaching the no-car perimeter that was set up around the stadium. He even walked with us for a bit to make sure we were safe, as the stadium is right next to a slum area that is full of Zimbabwean and Nigerian illegal immigrants. It was sad to drive by the area and see just how awful the living conditions were there. I honestly think the people living in one-story brick houses in the rural villages have a higher quality of life than the people here. In any event, the ride was only $25, and he offered to pick us up after the match. For winging it, this turned out really well.

As for the match itself, there’s only one word – Ayoba! Ayoba apparently is a slang term for “wow” or, more accurately, a “wow-factor”. If you watched the match, you know what I mean. But let’s start from entering the gates. The US support was through the roof. Everywhere I looked there were American flags, face paint, and vuvuzuelas. I tried to get a video or two capturing the atmosphere, but I’m not certain how well it worked. Once again we were sitting in the upper level, so we made our way up the winding ramps to the tune of USA chants and vuvuzuela blasts. We wound up in the 4th row of the upper level much closer to mid-field, which were great seats. In the “it’s a small world” category, we wound up sitting directly in front of an American family who was on our safari just a few days earlier. I was on the end of my group, so I wound up talking to a South African couple next to me throughout the match who had never been to a soccer match prior to the World Cup. The guy was asking me about our team and how good we were, along with getting clarity on some rules of the game itself.

For whatever reason, I love the pre-match ritual with the flags, the entrance of the players and the national anthems of both teams, even more so when it’s a US match. I think it has to do with all the build-up to the match coming to a head right at that moment, knowing it is only seconds away from beginning where anything can happen.

Unfortunately, the “anything” can be bad just as well as good. The Slovenians set the tone of the match not 30 seconds into it when one of their players went down like he’d been shot in the head, requiring the presence of the stretcher only to have him stand up and walk off the field when it arrived, and then re-entering the field a minute later. The guy next to me remarked that it was less about actual skills and more about who’s the best actor. This occurred probably 5 times throughout the match, until someone finally did get hurt and actually went off on the stretcher.

The first half was a disaster. 2 goals by the Slovenians, none by the US. We had a ton of wasted chances late in the first half only to have it followed up almost immediately by the 2nd Slovenian goal. I thought we were done. The way the team had been playing, I saw no chance of us coming back to tie, much less win the match. At the time, had we lost, the World Cup would’ve been over, as we were certain that England would beat Algeria and make it impossible for us to claim 2nd place. As the 2nd half started and the US made what Ryan and I thought were 2 underwhelming substitutions, along with some tactical switching of the players, things started to pick up a bit. Then Landon Donovan put home his magnificent goal into the roof of the net, and we started to believe again.

The US had a ton of momentum throughout the next 10 minutes or so, but couldn’t put home the 2nd goal, and as time wore on, it started to get more and more bleak. We were having some success passing the ball up to Altidore, but no one was getting great shots on net. Finally, the breakthrough came in the 82nd minute on a beautiful head from Altidore down to Bradley who buried it past the keeper in the back of the net. Complete delirium from the American fans, and all of a sudden there was new life. What followed after that is something that I still haven’t seen a definitive replay of, and have no idea why it didn’t count. Altidore won a gift of a free kick, which was kicked into the box and put into the net by a US player. Everyone went absolutely crazy only to discover moments later that the goalie was taking a goal kick from the box and the goal didn’t count. After a few scares late in the match, it was over and the US was still alive. As an older South African man said to me as we were leaving, "the match was Ayoba". It certainly was.

We made our way to that international landmark known as KFC to find our driver, who told us that the goal should’ve counted because he couldn’t see a foul when it was replayed on tv. On the way back to Melrose Arch, he was talking with us about how much it hurt to see South Africa going out before the 2nd round while the other teams are playing on, and that if they had only made it to the 2nd round, everyone in the country would’ve been happy. The rest of the World Cup will be very bittersweet for South Africans unless a miracle happens for them on Tuesday night.

Back at Melrose Arch, we went to a restaurant called Moyo that had been highly recommended by the Chicago people on our safari as well as the guy next to me at the match, and we sat outside in a big open area where they were showing the England-Algeria match. Thankfully, they provided us with big warm blankets; otherwise we would’ve been frozen. There were gas lamps and fire barrels scattered throughout the area as well. The place was absolutely packed as the game approached, with a small group of dedicated drunken English fans singing songs while everybody else in the area – mostly US fans, some Mexican, some Argentinian – were rooting for Algeria. A group of Hondurans passing by saw my American flag and all of them told us that the goal should’ve counted, and that they were rooting for us. We expressed our thanks, and said the same for them. The Argentines had a number of tables and were singing their own songs while waving towels or flags around in the air. It was a great atmosphere, and we got the result that we wanted with England drawing Algeria. If the US can beat Algeria on Wednesday, we go through to the next round regardless of what happens in the other match. Hopefully this is not a repeat of 2006, when we had a match against an African team that we should’ve beaten to advance to the next round, and lost.

The drive back to Pretoria was a piece of cake. Tomorrow, we see what it has to offer.

permalink written by  nucappy on June 18, 2010 from Pretoria, South Africa
from the travel blog: London and South Africa - World Cup 2010!
tagged USA, SouthAfrica, Pretoria, WorldCup and Slovenia

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Christmas Market Tours 2013 across Austria, Italy, Germany, Hungary and Slovenia

Helen, United States

I am taking Americans and Aussies on an adventure throughout Europe to visit some beloved Christmas Markets. For 17 years I have visited thousands of villages, towns and cities across Europe drinking lots of Glühwein and being spellbound by the Christmas Markets. Looking forward to this year!

permalink written by  vipalpinetours on November 5, 2013 from Helen, United States
from the travel blog: vipalpinetours's Travel Blog
tagged Christmas, Alps, Germany, Snow, Tours, Vienna, Hamburg, Austria, Berlin, Innsbruck, Holidays, Slovenia, Hungary, Tirol, ChristmasMarket, Weihnachtsmarkt, Christkindlmarkt, Wien, Graz, Tourismus and Christmastime

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