I mean with 96 hours to go you’d kind of hope that they were on top of things…
South Africa is world-renowned for being ridiculously disorganised and dangerous. Happy to report that so far there’s little evidence of either so far. Whether it’s a result of the FIFA-funded infrastructure and organisation that was steam-rolled into the country 6 years ago or not, all has been made quite easy for myself and any other travellers I’ve encountered so far.
When I got off the plane in Cape Town International airport I had match tickets, South African sim card and car rental sorted out within half an hour. And that was with me operating at about 22.61% productivity after 22 hours of connecting flights via Abu Dhabi and Jo’burg. So good work FIFA! Though this does not put them into the clear for not introducing the video technology that could have seen Ireland at this World Cup. But hey, after beating Algeria and Paraguay we’re over that now, right?
So anyway, the Etihad Airways experience was a lot of fun. Their cabin crew all wear half head scarves that cover one side of their heads meaning they look a bit like Jack Bauer went ape-shit again and bit off an ear off every crew member.
I chose to watch Speed as my in-flight movie in tribute to the man who did crazy preeeeetty well, Dennis Hopper. It was an amusing airplane friendly edit which meant any non-PG references to alcohol, sex or drugs were edited out. Knowing the film inside out rendered this a novelty instead of an annoyance. “Frick you Jaaaack!”.
Reading the city’s daily evening paper “Cape Argus”, you really do get a real sense just how much this means to the country. The first 9 or 10 pages of today’s paper were all devoted to coverage of the tournament. My favourite headline was “motorway link completed just in time for finals”. The local authorities had worked double time over the last month in order to get an essential part of city’s roadway open in time for the influx of travellers. And they just about made it, with the official opening coming yesterday just 5 days before the first game of the finals. Cutting it fine. Nice. And oh look, today they’ve decided to give the city a bit of a sweep, lovely.
In the taxi on the way from the airport I passed 6 or 7 schools and each one of them saw scores of kids running around kicking a football. While it’s been well documented how important the Pienaar and Mandela’s double act before the 1995 Rugby World Cup was, rugby is not, and never could be, the game of the people.
The city is gripped by “soccer fever”, with everyone in bars, restaurants and shops so gripped by this intangible excitement that it’s impossible to be cynical. In our footballing culture of Super Sunday 3D and 24 hour rolling coverage of Premier League press conferences repeats, it’s nice to see the game here dominated by the fans and the experience with the managers and players taking a supporting role. If Bafana can continue their recent run of good form, and somehow qualify for the second round, the lift it would bring to everybody here is impossible to imagine.
The funny thing is before I came here I went through all the groups trying to work out how things would play out and I had Mexico and France to get out of Group A with South Africa being the whipping boys of the group. But something tells me this could end up being one of the closest ones to call. Uruguay have the incredibly prolific front-line of Forlan & Suarez, while Manchester United’s new signing Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez seems unable to stop scoring for Mexico. Meanwhile a French striker hasn’t scored for the tactically challenged national team since Nicolas Anelka’s strike against Ireland in Croke Park last November.
With the deafening drone of 80,000 vuvuzelas behind them, maybe Bafana can somehow cobble together a few results and find themselves playing against Argentina or South Korea in the second round. Most would admit it’s unlikely but quite a few people round these parts really do dare to dream, and that enthusiasm is quite catchy…