Wednesday 23rd June

The day started out with yet another trip to O.R Tambo International airport, where I’d decided enough was enough as far as our VW Touran was concerned and it needed to go back to be replaced. What I’d hoped would be a simple 10 minute exchange turned into a 45 minute wait, as the woman in the Thrifty office couldn’t find drivers records for half our named drivers, and the man in charge of the swap was detailing some damage to the front of the Touran and trying to get me to pay up for it, even though it was there when we picked the car up the day we arrived.

We opted for a super waiver insurance policy when we first acquired the cars at the beginning of the month. When the body check was done prior to us driving it away, I noticed a couple of dents and cracks that the staff member failed to note on the check list, but he told us not to worry as our waiver would cover things like that, and only the big smashes would be an issue. And here they were, 3 weeks on, trying to claim it was our fault. So, some convincing later, and I was on my way home in a shiny new silver Touran, taking this rare moment of solitude to belt out the words (and guitar riffs) to ‘All Right Now’ by Free, as it came on the radio 10 minutes out of the airport on my sunny drive back to Randburg.

I went to lunch at Brightwater Commons nearby with Chris, Steve, Bellis and Cath, before we left for Soccer City at 3pm for the Ghana vs. Germany match (a game for which Valeria and Tim chose their seat positions at 10am that morning! We managed to get to the media centre, choose our seats and get set up on the desks in time for kick-off in the all-important England game down in Port Elizabeth, as they played Slovenia to make it through to the knockout stages. It made for great viewing, especially as the screens throughout the media centre were displaying a mixture of matches…some showing the England game, others showing the USA’s match against Algeria, which was just as important in terms of determining England’s position in the group, and ultimately, where we would be travelling to for the next stages of the tournament. As Jermain Defoe scored what would be England’s winner, a sigh of relief was breathed throughout the ranks of English press, as it appeared we would be topping the group and taking a seemingly straightforward route through the knockout stages (should the USA match finish 0-0 as it was looking like it would). However, just as the final whistle blew in Port Elizabeth, huge cheers came from various corners of the media centre as Landon Donovan slotted home an injury time winner for the USA in their match, which meant they had won the group and put England into 2nd place, giving us a much harder route to the final (in both the opposition, and logistics!).

We studied the alternative route, and found that we would have to travel to Bloemfontein for the 2nd round, then potentially Cape Town for the quarters, Durban for the semis, and back to Johannesburg for the final, should they make it all the way through. To say that Donovan had messed up our plans as photographers would be understatement. Not only would we have a lot more travelling to do, but we would also miss out on key matches like Argentina vs. Mexico at Soccer City, due to the logistical impossibilities of getting to both games.

Leechie was soon on Skype, discussing our plans for the next round. It was decided that we’d sack off the USA vs. Ghana match in Rustenburg, and both head to Bloemfontein to double up on the England game. If we were in Rustenburg on the Saturday evening, we wouldn’t be home before 3am at the earliest, and that’s assuming it doesn’t go to extra time or penalties. We would then need to leave for Bloemfontein no later than 6.30am the next day in order to get there early enough to get the seats we wanted. Would we want to be knackered for the England game just so we could shoot USA vs. Ghana? I don’t think so…good decision.

With that in mind, I gathered my bits and pieces together and headed out to the Soccer City stadium, walking down the mineshaft-like tunnel under the stadium and into the arena.

The match itself was terrible, nothing near what we expected from the 2 teams involved, both known for their attacking nature. By half time, I had a total of 3 pictures worth sending, 2 of which were separate frames of the same incident. By the end of the match, there was still not a lot to show for 90 minutes of World Cup football…Germany scored the game’s only goal, at the far end, and there were little celebrations elsewhere. A consolation for my shoot was the moment Ghana realised they had also qualified for the next stage, thanks to Australia’s victory over Serbia in the other Group D game, when John Pantsil ran to the crowd and took a flag from a fan, and then proceeded to run a lap of honour with the flag held high, something that had seemingly become something of a tradition. No doubt the fans left the stadium with mixed emotions…great to qualify, but what a poor display of football to do it with.

With Germany confirmed as group winners, it was now set in stone that their opponents would be England in 4 days’ time. We soon got onto hotel websites and managed to find 2 rooms just a couple of miles from the stadium for Saturday night, which we booked up sharpish. I booked up my match ticket for Bloemfontein, and together with Chris, Itu and Nakayama, made the half hour journey back to the Lodge.

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