What a fantastic day in Tshwane/Pretoria yesterday. I woke up to sunshine and no vuvuzelas and went down to the Edwardian splendour at the Victoria Hotel for another wonderful breakfast individually prepared by Lydia. There are many gems in Southern Africa,- diamonds, emeralds and The Victoria Hotel.
At Church Square in the heart of the city,things were humming. Crowds of Chilean and Spanish fans had gathered and were chanting Ole! Ole!,Ole! and Chile! Chile! Juan from Elche(a World Cup city in 1982) and Oswaldo and his son from Santiago were leading the chanting, Juan on a big base drum and Oswaldo on a smaller one. I did manage to get them together for a photo opportunity.
Local crafts were on sale and some women were knitting and stringing colourful beads together to make dolls, clothes, hats, vuvuzelas, shoes, necklaces. A strange teenage dance group of Zulu boys were dressed in Scottish plaid skirts, rather than kilts, and another group in brown mock lions skins. Walking down Church Street there were dozens of small stalls outside the major stores selling all the teams souvenir hats, wigs, flags, vuvuzelas, scarves and sandals made from hairy animal skins.
We went over to Hatfield Square for the first matches of the day, Portugal v Brazil from Durban and North Korea v Ivory Coast in Nelspruit. NOBODY was tuned into the latter match. I met Ryan and fiancee Soraya plus another Ryan at Barcelos, a Portuguese style restaurant. A bee came to visit us and dived into my Sprite Lite glass and never got to see another minute of World Cup action. R.I.P. The giant screen on stage and the hundreds of wide screen T.V.s in the various pubs and restaurants wanted to see the BIG match. What a disappointment! It was: a mix of a demolition derby and a train wreck.
Bodies flying in all directions, crunching tackles, body checks and little of the cultured soccer that we had all been waiting for. I was about as exciting as Nuevo Laredo vs Reynosa in the lower Mexican Leagues. Both teams were destined to advance, and with the 0-0 draw Brazil topped the group and will play Chile, While Portugal face Spain.
An early dinner at Romans Pizza with their 2 for 1 special and four more friends from Pretoria joined us. Luckily I had a ticket courtesy of Ryan and outside there were none to spare at Loftus but inside maybe 8,000 empty seats, mostly in the hundreds of expensive boxes that could accomodate about 20 people. Maybe 200 of these boxes, over 90% empty. A couple of scuffles outside as claims and counter claims over ticket sales. One younger local was tackled by 4 armed police in riot gear and tossed onto the pavement like a calf at the Lazy J Ranch in the Texas panhandle. Luckily he wasn't going to be branded or castrated!
We were in the huge East stand that had a complete makeover in the last couple of years, with a giant overhanging roof since it freuently rains during the South African summer. Chilean, Spanish and neutrals were mixed and exchanged friendly banter. What an amazing opening, opportunistic goal from afar by David Villa, as the European champions were raring to win and to please. Mexican referee Marco Rodriquez, nicknamed Dracula, because of his greased swept back hair, changed the match with a second yellow and a red for Estrada.
Fernando Torres had knocked the Chilean flying and then was supposedly clipped on the heel and Torres went down like a sack of potatos holding his expensive head. Ten minutes later, Man of the Match Andres Iniesta seemed to put the match and the group to bed with a superb strike past goalie Claudio Bravo. IT WAS NOT QUITE SO SIMPLE. The Chileans may have lost top spot in the group but they never gave up hope. Two minutes into the second half substitute Millar shot from the edge of the box with his first touch, deflecting off Gerard Pique and past Casillas.
One thing that was PERFECT was Metro Rail. About 7 minutes walk from Loftus to the station, a wait of 3 minutes then 9 minutes to Pretoria Central, and less than a minute across to the Hotel Victoria. In the bar were Mick and Stan from Buxton, Derbyshire. They kindly bought me a couple Savannah Dry premier ciders and lots of reminiscences of World Cups past. The end to a perfect day in Africa.