We had all day to look forward to Paraguay vs. Japan in Pretoria! However, a lot of the guys in the Lodge had been put on the waiting list for this match, which operates on a first come, first served basis. The waiting list is for people who have not initially been granted a pass, but can still apply for a ticket once all initial passes have been given out and there is still room available (usually once people with a pass have failed to turn up, or have cancelled their initial requests prior to the match). For some reason I’d been granted a pitch pass and parking pass immediately following my application, but a lot of our crew, including Matt, who has some important Japanese clients and commitments, had not, so we needed to get there early to ensure they had the best chance possible of getting into the game, by getting their names near the top of the waiting list.
I arrived at about 11am and headed immediately to the photographers’ ticketing desk to choose my seat for the match – I managed to get a space on the end of the pitch which I was happy with, however once that was sorted, I struggled to find a workstation with power plugs and an internet cable, such was the volume of media in attendance. Eventually, after a look around, I found one and settled down to catch up with things that needed doing – mainly editing and diary-writing. I got typing…and what only seemed like an hour or so later was actually 3 hours, and I needed to get out to the pitch – of course, not before informing Bellis and Kleiny how to use BitTorrent and the files that go with it…it turned out that they’d both been declinded passes, along with George, Marc and Steve, so they were getting ready to head home, where we’d meet them later.
I made the winding walk out to the pitch and down to the far end where my seat was – right of the benches, far side of the goal, with the goal to my left. I was all too well aware of the Japan fans and their reputation for producing colourful and often outrageous costumes, so I knew I had to put aside some time to shoot them. Unfortunately the weather wasn’t great, on one of very few overcast days we’ve seen since being here, and that meant there wasn’t that bold colour and contrast usually associated with these pictures, especially in the sun for a 4pm kick-off.
The match itself was a dull affair, really dull. The quality of football was poor, especially for a World Cup Last 16 game, and the quality of pictures wasn’t far behind. Inevitably, it finished 0-0, and went to extra time…sighs of frustration rang round the photographers as we realised we’d no longer make it back to the Lodge and out to the pub in time to see the start of the far more appealing Spain vs. Portugal game in Cape Town. However, with the match getting closer to a conclusion one way or the other, the intensity of play seemed to increase, and pictures began to emerge. None of it was enough though, and the match went to a penalty shoot-out, my first of the tournament. Throughout the match, no-one is told which end the penalties will be taken, but when the final whistle blew after 120 minutes, a FIFA Media Officer came round to inform us that they’d be taken at the far end. At half time of extra time, I’d pocketed my 100mm lens, so that I’d have to hand to use for penalties should I need to run to the other end. And so at full-time, I stood up out of the cramped chair, and made my way down to the far end of the pitch and positioned myself behind the goal, just to the left as I look at it, so I could have the kicker, the post and some goal net all in the picture as the penalty’s taken. I also had my 400mm lens on another body to shoot the players waiting together on the halfway line as well as any tight celebrations that came my way, and a wide 24-70mm lens on a third body, either to shoot the penalty quite wide, accommodating the potential over-the-bar decider, and also a close-up if the players come our way towards the boards to celebrate victory. Just about covered…and then they began.
I shot every penalty the same, with the 100mm lens, stood next to a TV cameraman with a great angle to the goal. A Japanese player skied his penalty over the bar halfway through the shoot-out, leaving Paraguay with a chance of victory. When Oscar Cardozo stepped up to take the potential winning penalty, I saw the Japan players all on their knees on the halfway line, looking concerned as he made his way towards the area. It made a really nice frame, alongside the Paraguayan equivalent which was clearly just a bag of nerves, but with an edge of excitement built in.
Cardozo’s run-up seemed to take forever, but he soon scored, and turned towards my side of the goal to celebrate. His teammates sprinted from the halfway line to join in with the celebrations, and the pile of players swept towards the advertising boards just yards to my left, so I brought my 24-70mm across from my shoulder and moved towards them, getting in close as they celebrated, mouths wide open, right in front of me.
Once these celebrations died down, I knew I had to get an equal, if not greater amount of dejection on the Japanese players, as their country always expects great things from them, and the photography market there is strong and well worth tapping into, where possible. I sprinted back up the sideline to where a large group of blatant Japan fans were situated, and saw the players beginning to wander towards us. I shot players with tears in their eyes, full-on crying, teammates consoling each other…it was all there, straight down the lens.
The area was swarming with Japanese snappers, machine-gunning everything in sight at 11fps as they’re famous for doing. Eventually the players retreated to the dressing room, whilst we returned to our seats and got on the wire. I didn’t have loads of images to send there and then, but I knew what I did have was definitely worth sending. I made my way back to the Media Centre having done what I needed to do, where a downbeat Ito and Kaz were busy sending their images back to Japan. Although we wanted to get moving, we were aware of their commitments and respected the time they needed…we eventually left at about 8.45pm, nailing it back to the Lodge to drop our gear off and head straight to the pub.
As we pulled onto Main Avenue, we saw Kleiny etc. driving the opposite way to the pub in the Nissan. We sorted a quick turnaround and we in the pub just 10 minutes into the 2nd half of the Spain game, soon digging into dinner and a few beers. At the end of the evening, with it being Mongo’s last night before he headed home, the chance to go out into town was laid out on the table. Personally, I was too tired and said I’d prefer it tomorrow, but Kleiny, Mongo, Chris, Joe and Marc went out, leaving a few of us to drive home and reload for the next round.