Thursday 24th June

We left for Ellis Park at midday to shoot Slovakia vs. Italy, a game that didn’t exactly get pulses racing when it  appeared on the World Cup schedule. Arriving once again in the quaint neighbourhood of Hillbrow (!), I was already looking forward to some food, having eaten close to nothing so far that day. I made my way over to the onsite cafe / restaurant, set up in a way resembling a prison canteen or a food hall from a young offenders’ institute…concrete walls, squeeky flooring, high ceilings, and randomly-scattered tables and chairs provide the setting for lunch at Ellis Park. I paid the usual R75 (£7.50) for a hot meal, with Chicken Schnitzel offering the most appealing option. For your R75, you can help yourself to as much salad, bread, yogursts etc. as you like…and thank God that was the case, because the chicken was not even close to being cooked properly, with a truely pink centre that couldn’t have induced food poisoning more if it wanted to. Cutting into the chicken, I immediately noticed it was raw, so to the side of the plate it went, and on with the salad I went.

Being a 4pm kick-off (something that had become somewhat of a rarity), I was keen to get out and shoot some more fan pictures, especially as I hadn’t shot Italy here before. One set of Slovakian fans had a 15′ wide banner with a discrete hole in the middle and one of them kept poking his head through the gap…this gave us a nice picture with a clean background and ticked the fan shot box for the day.

Both sides took a cagey approach to the match to begin with, but it was Slovakia who looked more adventurous as the game progressed, and when they deservedly took the lead, I was pleased to have a nice frame on the goal and also a token effort on the cele, or what there was of it anyway as the scorer, Vittek, ran backwards away from us with his arms wide open.

The match developed into a firey contest, with both sides getting stuck into each other and goals going in at either end. Following Italy’s 2nd goal (to bring them back to 2-3), the Slovakian goalkeeper Jan Mucha tried to keep hold of the ball in the back of the net to slow down the restart. Players from both sides waded in, as well as English referee Howard Webb who tried to calm the situation, as things kicked off in the back of the goalmouth.

The desperation of the Italians became more and more obvious, but however hard they tried, they were unable to score the vital 3rd goal, and Slovakia finished victorious, knocking the defending champions out of the tournament in the process. The Slovakian bench erupted on the final whistle, with coach Vladimir Weiss doing his professional best to restrain his celebrations as the opposition walked off dejected.

All in all, I think it was probably one of my best shoots of the tournament so far, with goal, celes, incidents, emotion etc. all ticked off.When we got back to the Lodge in the evening, we made our way once again to the Keg & Countryman which, as always, was rammed. We brought together a table for 7 people and ordered some beers, closely followed by dinner, as we watched a drab match between Netherlands and Cameroon on one of the pub’s many big screens, a match Leechie was attending in Cape Town. By the time we’d each had 2 courses of food and about 4 or 5 pints to drink, we decided to go home and get our heads down.

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