After being in Johannesburg for just under three days and seeing two great matches, I can honestly say that I am blown away by the whole World Cup experience.
First off, to say that South Africa is hosting the World Cup is quite literal. All South Africans are in this together. I have never seen so many people beam with so much pride in welcoming people to their country. Everyone is incredibly friendly, warm and helpful. There are signs and soccer balls EVERYWHERE. This is a huge accomplishment when you consider the nation’s first free election was in 1994. South Africans have reason to be proud.
Secondly, the world is truly here. It’s so fantastic to see fans in jerseys from all the different countries speaking dozens of languages gathered around the huge TVs in the public plazas and restaurants.
And then there are the games themselves. On Sunday I was lucky enough to see Brazil take on Ivory Coast at Soccer City, the new, ultra modern stadium in Soweto. Concerns about traffic jams convinced us to head to the game early, so we spent the better part of the afternoon around the stadium, watching the end of the Italy-New Zealand draw on a big screen outdoors and sampling some of the local fare outside.
Inside the stadium buzzed with electricity, and I don’t just mean from the vuvuzelas. There were literally thousands of Brazilians there decked out in some amazing fan attire, as well as a smattering of Ivory Coast fans, too. Brazil won as expected but Didier Drogba scored for Ivory Coast in the second half to the delight of many. Kaka was red carded near the end of the game which added even more drama to a thrilling 3-1 win. It was the best soccer match I have ever seen, based solely on the level of skill. The Brazilians are amazing and Ivory Coast is quite strong.
Monday night I headed to Ellis Park Stadium (site of the rugby match depicted in the movie Invictus) for a completely different but totally thrilling experience. The drive downtown showed the neighborhoods surrounding the park and gave a striking depiction of urban life in the middle of Johannesburg. The stadium complex is quite old (though updated) and seats just over 50,000, which is 30,000 fewer than Soccer City. It was a far more intimate setting to see Spain shut out Honduras, 2-0, to try to regain face in the tournament. Fans of Espana outnumbered the Hondurans, but it was a dedicated group in blue and white who stayed until the very end.
Today everyone will gather around the TVs and in the plazas because our hosts face off against France because South Africa is gaining a lot of fans!
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Written by Stephanie Geosits