Monday, June 28, 2010

USA vs. Ghana A.K.A. The Quick, Brutal End to the Dream

For a World Cup that seemed to be becoming a song and a dance for the US Men's National Team, It sure came to a quick inglorious ending. Oh well...

It started out brightly enough. Before the match I was hanging out with Mr. Soccerhead, Zack Phillips who always cuts his hair with the pattern of a soccer ball. Everywhere he goes, people what to know who he he tells them...he's a soccer fanatic like all the rest of us who enjoy soccer with a passion that is unexplainable.
At the beginning of the USA v. Ghana match it seemed like the spirits here high of the US fans and the players.

But a horrible giveaway by midfielder Ricardo Clark once again forced the USA to start out the match down by an early goal.At halftime the USA fans looked doubtful for a comeback.
But then Clint Dempsey was brought down in the box...And Landon Donovan calmly delivered the goal from the spot to even the match and breathe new life for the Americans.
But despite pressing the USA didn't score the magical goal and the game went to extra time.
When Ghana scored a goal to once again take the lead.
And deflate the USA's once grand dreams of making an amazing run deep into the tournament.

And despite some desperate attempts to score a goal, including Tim Howard coming all the way up field to try and get a header on goal.

It became clear to the fans there was no magical ending today.
And the USA players were deflated...The fans consoling each other..

The Ghana team celebrating their victory...
And a bunch of Americans sitting in their seats long after the final whistle the blown chance for the USA to go far into the tournament.

Well now its over. Its taken a couple of days since the game for me to get this post out. Been busy but also trying to deal with what happened. A long road since qualifying started in 2008 and so many highs and lows, a amazing run in the World Cup and then the quick ending.

All I can say is it is the World Cup. It can teach you some harsh lessons including: Enjoy the good time while they last, cause you never, ever, know when they are going to end.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Japan vs. Denmark

Leave it to the Danes...they are a fun loving bunch of fans who know how to enjoy the World Cup. Before their match against Japan they were enjoying themselves at a bar across the street from the stadium in Rustenberg. They had played well and it looked like Denmark had a good chance to advance.
But after two goals in the first half it was the Japanese fans that were feeling good.

I was enthralled by a huge flag a bunch of Japanese fans had brought to the stadium. It was about 20 regular sized flags that were tied together and the fans stuck their heads between holes in the flag. They would stand up and wave it around over a bunch of seats.

And there were also people below the huge flag that were helping push it up as well which was a cool photo...
And it was also fun to shoot through the holes at the smiling Japanese fans.

When the final whistle blew the Japanese fans, and a ton of South Africans that had adopted the team as their own for the night erupted in celebration.
And one fan, dressed up as a sumo wrestler decided to bare how much he loved Japan and the World Cup.
On the way out South African's were hi-fiving and cheering on the Japanese fans who on their way to the second round. I'll be able to photograph them next Tuesday again.

And the Denmark fans??? Well there were not as many of them after the match at the bar across the street. But the one's that made it there decided a little loss was not going to ruin their World Cup experience.
After all: win, lose or draw, its all about experiencing the magic of the World Cup.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

USA vs. Algeria A.K.A. Pure Insanity

Now this is why I love soccer! I never thought I would feel any feeling more crazy than the USA's win over Portugal in 2002 to start their dream run into the Quarterfinals of that tournament. But the USA-Algeria game was even more intense.
Before the game I felt that the USA had to win to go through. But with so many opportunities blown by the USA had in the first half it looked like it might be one of those days.

And the fans could feel the pressure building as well.
With Dempsey missing goals and hitting the woodwork and several chances going for naught, as the game got past the 80th minute it looked like a World Cup with so much promise for Team USA was about to come to a disappointing end.
And the USA fans stood waiting for the improbable to happen.

And then late in the game Donovan made a run, passing the ball to Altidore, and getting it back in a scramble in front of the goal mouth to put the ball into the net. 1-0. From the depths of despair to the heights of ecstasy in the matter of a second.
It was absolute insanity in the stands...

And when the game was called the team went crazy.
Altidore was beat up but enjoying the moment.
And the teammates were hugging everywhere.
And the screams of joy...
And chants of USA rang throughout the stadium during a pure moment of Insanity and pure joy..
Some fans stood in disbelief.
While everyone else enjoyed the moment.
A fairy tail ending to a difficult first round of the World Cup.

Even the Algeria fans gave a thumbs up to the USA's efforts.
And the cheering went on long after the game was over.
And the party continued on and on.
What else can this team do? Moments like the USA vs. Algeria game are why I fell in love with the World Cup and is why I will always be at every World Cup. It is indeed the beautiful game.

Monday, June 21, 2010

My Elephant Sighting, A.K.A. Ivory Coast vs. Brazil

I was excited to photograph Brazil playing Ivory Coast at Soccer City on Sunday night, but I ended up being fascinated following an elephant. In 2006 I just assumed that Brazil would make it to the semi-finals and I would have plenty of time to take photographs of their fans. When they were eliminated by France I missed my chance. I thought the Brazil fans would be crazy and fun and intense, but at Soccer City they were rather mellow and besides a few samba players were not really vocal. So I ended up walking around the stadium and followed the trials and tribulations of the Ivory Coast fans that made the trip to South Africa.

A group of about 50 Ivory Coast fans entered the stadium and two of them helped escort the "The Elephant of Ivory Coast" to his seat. It must have been really hard to walk in that outfit and unfortunately the fans did not know exactly where they were seating. They went up and down two ramps and around half the stadium before they found their seats.

Meanwhile the Brazil fans found their seats, with their eyes solely on the grand prize: The Copa del Mundo trophy.
As I wandered back to see how the Ivory Coast fans were doing I came upon a surprise. They had been kicked out of their seats and were standing behind them unsure what to do. A lot of confusion reigned supreme because the Ivory Coast fans only spoke French and they had to wait to find someone else who did. Luckily one of the volunteers at the stadium did and the story unfolded:
Apparently the fans had all bought their tickets individually and had ended up with tickets all over the stadium and not together. One of the volunteers explained to me that you need to buy the group tickets to ensure you are all together. There ended up being a lot of finger pointing and upset Ivory Coast fans with drums and costumes unable to cheer on their team. They spent about 20 minutes trying to find seating together but eventually it became clear that it was a hopeless pursuit and they ended up drifting off to their own seats leaving the lonely Ivory Coast elephant all alone by himself, as his costume was too large to fit him into one seat. And after going down 2-0, the poor elephant had little to cheer for...
I wandered off again and was looking for more crazy Brazil fans but only ended up finding this skirmish of fans after Brazil scored their third goal. Not sure what it was about but I believe the action in the stands was more fun then on the field in what ended up being a rather easy game for Brazil to win.

I went back to see how the lonely Ivory Coast elephant was doing and got there right when Drogba scored a goal for them to give them one back. Several people standing near the elephant patted him on the shoulder in appreciation...

And the Ivory Coast elephant gave out one quick roar for this one moment of happiness for him.

But as expected, the Brazilians won, and partied out of the stadium having qualified once again for the second round. It seemed like the Brazil fans were really holding back their celebratory "guns," having come to expect to get this far and looking forward to partying harder when they get further in the tournament.
And for the South Africans, the party hopefully will continue as well, as will the call of the Elephant, er, I mean the vuvuzuela!!!