I felt like I’d only been asleep 5 minutes when the alarm went off at 5.45am, 3 and a half hours after I shut my eyes. I chucked on the clothes I’d taken off all at once the previous evening, and staggered towards the front door, car keys in hand, to find Valeria stood outside ready to go. She was flying to Cape Town (via Durban!) for the afternoon kick-off between Argentina vs. Germany, where Tim had already flown to the previous evening following his Netherlands vs. Brazil match in Port Elizabeth.
I was back in bed exactly 30 minutes later, having been to Sandton and back, and managed to squeeze in an extra 3 hours’ sleep before we took an early trip to Ellis Park to collect our match tickets for the day’s game between Paraguay vs. Spain…with the tickets being given out randomly at peak times, we thought we’d have a better chance of being able to choose where we wanted to sit if we rocked up early when few other people were there to clog up the queue. We were right, and were able to choose from all 4 corners of the pitch (and sides, if desired). I chose a corner I hadn’t sat before…the area which would be known in the UK as ‘lazy corner’ (nearest the entrance), which, at this particular stadium, is bench side of the goals, with the goal to my left.
We got in the car and went off to have a bite to eat for breakfast at the Bromhof Mugg & Bean…another tropical breakfast of fruit, yoghurt and muesli made me feel healthy again. I stocked up by having pancakes and maple syrup after, to ensure that I wouldn’t be craving anything come 6pm at Ellis Park, the home of crap media catering.
We went home for an hour or so, where I caught up on sleep with a quick nap on the freshly-made bed sheets, and then we got going. We went via George’s residence, and from there, followed the sat nav, which took the scenic route to the ground. We drove through some of the least salubrious areas I’ve ever seen, let alone travelled through, with hundreds of people lining the narrowest of pavements, steam and smells coming from all around (evident even with the windows up), fruit and veg stalls set up in the road, people running between cars, jumping in and out of abandoned-looking buildings…you really have to see it to believe it. If you look up ‘Pretoria Street Hillbrow’ in Google or on Google Maps, take a look for yourself.
Once we’d got comfortable in the media centre, I took my 400mm lens to the Canon desk to have it cleaned and checked, and then we sat back and watched the TV in amazement as Germany destroyed Argentina in Cape Town, winning 4-0 and putting the remaining favourites out of the tournament with ruthless German efficiency. Although it was a sight to behold, all of us in the Lodge were hoping Germany would crash to defeat so we could avoid Valeria’s smug smile when we meet her back in Durban for the semis.
Our own match began slowly, and only a small selection of pictures were worth sending as the game stumbled into half time as the first 45 minutes ended goalless.
The second half produced much more in terms of interest and pictures, starting when Paraguay were awarded a penalty at the far end for an offence I didn’t see. The typical underdog tension hovered amongst the fans as Oscar Cardozo stepped up to take it, but it obviously proved too much for him to handle, as Iker Casillas dived slightly down to his left to save it, smothering the ball safely into his arms. Shortly after, Spain were on the attack towards our goal and a foul was commited by a Paraguay defender in the area, for which the referee again awarded a penalty. We lowered our long lenses and trained the short ones on Xabi Alonso as he ran forward to drive the ball home, before running the other side of the goal to jump up in a massive celebration with his teammates. Words of annoyance were uttered from our side, as such a great cele went the wrong way, but these feelings were short-lived when the referee ordered the kick to be taken again, on the grounds of penalty area encroachment from a player during his run-up. This gave us a second chance, hoping he’d change his mind and belt down our lenses for the back page picture. However, one shock led to another, as the Paraguay goalkeeper dived to save the penalty…Xabi Alonso was left wthout a goal, and we were left without our goal picture or cele.
The game developed into an exciting affair, with both teams taking the decision to attack with all they had. Fernando Torres was substituted for Cesc Fabregas; a picture that was worth sending for the English papers, as well as anyone, and with about 10 minutes to go, up popped David Villa yet again to score the winner. He cut inside the defenders and slotted the ball in off the post, before turning at the front of a snake-like formation of teammates and darting towards our corner, mouth wide open, to celebrate. Once again, the tournament’s leading scorer did the business and topped it off with a great cele for the cameras, starting off at the front of a snake-like formation of players, before belting straight down our lenses.
The match finished 1-0 to Spain, leaving Paraguay, and in particular, their penalty-misser Oscar Cardozo, hero of the Japan shoot-out, dejected and inconsolable.
As I was in the nearest corner of the stadium to the media centre, I took my time editing by the pitch, getting the important stuff out first, before returning indoors to finish up there. Comments were going round about the cele, with people from other areas of the pitch wanting to see what it was like, some of them bitter that the great Alonso cele meant nothing in the end, and was hardly worth sending at all. Others were amazed that both Simon Bellis and myself had managed to get on the end of the pitch, and especially bench side, with such a massive media presence for the game. Although I wasn’t keen on disclosing our early-morning tip, some of the guys did explain that we got there first thing to get it all done, and those who were in disbelief slowly backed down.
We left for the Lodge at about 12.30am, once we’d applied for the semi-final which we were able to do from midnight onwards once FIFA had confirmed the final fixture for Durban and enabled the ticketing process for that particular match. I applied for the tribune, as well as a parking pass. We got back to George’s half an hour later, and dropped in to the BP garage near his to pick up a few things before making our way back.