Wednesday, December 22, 2010

World Cup Diary - Part 4

The day of the final group game, and we make the one and a half trip to the stadium. It is a late kick off and the stadium looks beautiful, I can recognise now that the structures around the stadium look like giant giraffes.

The crowd is about 80% Australian and 10% Serbian and the rest are made up of the Bafana Bafana. The Serbians are relatively subdued compared to the Ghanains from the previous game. I think the Serbian crowd has the highest disparity of attractiveness between the sexes.

We take our seats and are next to an Asian Australian. A true rarity in this part of the world. The crowd is nervous and I have huge chills down my spine as I raise my scarf in the air and join the crowd in singing the national anthem.

The game starts and it is frantic. Krasic falls over dramatically and his reaction provokes the crowd. From then on, each time this Swayze doppleganger touches the ball, a deep reverberating boo comes from the crowd. I tense as this Shane Watson lookalike is through on goal and knocks it to the right around the goalkeeper. Why is it that so many people look like Shane Watson but they don't look like each other? There is no offside flag and no covering defender, just an empty net. I laugh as he puts the shot into the side netting. I've never seen a sportsman be influenced so much by the crowd's reaction. He sees so much of the ball in the first half but it is comical how little he does with it. Eventually he is moved infield by the coach so that he can't hear the crowd, and is the first player substituted by Serbia in the second half.

We're lucky to end half time at 0-0, and look more positive in the second half. Maybe it's that we are playing with 11 men, or that it has always been our game plan to just wear the opposition out.

It's amazing to see Tim Cahill live. He leaps so high it's like he is on another planet, he can just hang up there. He scores and ever so slightly you start to think that it could happen. Then, it happens. At any level of football, from the park to the A-league (not a big leap), the casual fan is always screaming for a player coming through on goal to just shoot it. Usually the player just passes it around and the move fizzles out. This time, Holman does shoot and skids through past the keeper into the bottom left corner. The stadium goes mental and I'm hugging everyone in sight. I lose my voice screaming and we can start to believe. Just one more goal and we will be through. The whole crowd it seems is willing the team on. It almost seems like a formality now, the goal is going to come. It feels like we have resisted everything Serbia threw at us and now we just need to knock them out.

I remember what happened for the Bafana Bafana, in a similar position, getting the sucker punch from an unmotivated, barely there French team. I try to put that thought out of my head. But then it does happen to us, Serbia get the goal out of nowhere. We try to summon up the hope again. The Serbians are going crazy on the sidelines. Only later do I realise that they want to score again to avoid finishing last again. It is too much for Australia to come back from this. We all stay back to applaud the players, who allowed us to believe for a moment that the impossible could happen. A win is still fantastic and the team has done well to come back from the thrashing against Germany in the first game.

We leave Komatipoort the next day, giving a lift to an American who has gone even further into disguise than the usual Canadian flag. This American wears an Ivory Coast jersey and does not speak much and when he does so, it's soft spoken and polite. We take the quiet American to Nelspruit and motor on down to Cape Town....

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