Posted by Jeff Carlisle
JOHANNESBURG -- Forty days is a long time to be away from home. That doesn't mean that saying goodbye to the place that has been my temporary abode for nearly six weeks will be easy.
There is so much to like and admire about South Africa. The beauty of the landscapes, along with the friendliness -- and resilience -- of the people will linger long in the memory. But it's often the small, kind gestures that help journalists cope with the tournament's unyielding pace. Those are the moments that I'll remember the most, and saying goodbye to the people who provided them will be difficult indeed.
I'll always recall one of my drivers, Dolf, taking my colleague Luke Cyphers and I out for brunch on Father's Day, providing a welcome diversion from deadlines and late nights. I'll also remember the woman in the Orlando East section of Soweto who was kind enough to open up the shebeen she owned late one night to allow complete strangers a glimpse of South Africa away from the stadiums and news conferences. And I'll savor attending my one and only braai -- that's South African for barbecue -- and the ease with which I was made to feel welcome.
Since I've arrived here in South Africa, there's been lots of talk about the World Cup's lasting impact. And usually this is described purely in terms of the economic benefits for a country still navigating its way through the sometimes messy post-apartheid era. But if the moments described above are any indication, there is an emotional wealth that runs deep throughout all of South Africa. I expect that will be the currency that carries the country through difficult times.
So goodbye, South Africa. Thanks for the memories. And the little gestures.
Posted by John Brewin
JOHANNESBURG -- The month is over, and the world has a new champion. With Spain, an eighth name has entered the footballing pantheon, and a nation rejoices while the rest of the world -- that is not Dutch -- politely applauds.
For those of us fortunate enough to have covered the tournament from start to finish, a time of long drives, equally long waits, bleary mornings and some hugely substandard stadium food is at an end. But your scribe would not swap a minute of it. On returning home, one will have to measure my own perceptions of South Africa 2010 against those of others, most of whom will have viewed the tournament through the fish-eye lens of domestic television coverage or the prism of the written media.
Before I allow my views to be affected by those of others, I will proffer some of my own reflections as I soak in the morning after the night before. It's another bleary one.
Perception versus reality: Months of scare stories about security, crime and potential disease can wear a man down. No amount of rationalizing about how people live and work in Johannesburg every day could prevent trepidation upon my entry to South Africa. My host for the tournament later described me as having a "petrified" look on my arrival after a drive across a city labeled the most dangerous in the world by the likes of Louis Theroux and, rather unhelpfully, by the local man sat next to me on the plane from London. A month on and I am not alone in wondering what I was worried about. Sure, a driver needs to be wary, and there have been isolated incidents of crime. But not on the scale of the long-predicted apocalypse for fans and journalists that supposedly awaited us. Someone, somewhere, has made an awful lot of money from the security business during this tournament. As I was told by a South African emigre back in London, if you live by the rules here -- those of caution and common sense -- you should be just fine.
Feathering the nest: Few could blame the South African populace for wanting to cash in on a bonanaza that might only be repeated when hosting an Olympics. There were some ludicrous nightly rates for hotels until right before the tournament, and these continued for those booking last-minute. But once here, this is not an expensive place to subsist, with food and drink far less expensive than in Europe and America. The real ripoffs lay in those places and planes tied into FIFA's pet travel company, as run by Sepp Blatter's son-in-law. And mention must be made of the exclusion zones placed around stadia to deny street vendors, very much a part of South African life. While a $1.4 billion profit was trousered, what actual benefit to a local economy that serves the lowest strata of society was set down in this churlish denial?
Stadium culture: Ticket prices, meanwhile, excluded much of the black population -- a group that is, for the greater part, soccer fans -- to often leave stadia full of touristy types, fans perhaps watching their first games. And the allocation of later games was odd, with Durban's semifinal seeing fans of both Germany and Spain placed together, which meant that the atmosphere lacked partisanship. The vuvuzela will long be whinged about, especially by those who were too close to one being blown, but without them, this observer is convinced that many a match would have had no atmosphere at all.
The superstar syndrome: When will the advertising world learn that high finance and profile does not mean high class on the global scale? And when will putative stars learn that if anything is going to set them up for a fall, it is appearing in a high-production advertisement? This tournament proved that World Cup success is delivered by teams and not individuals, and the likes of Rooney, Ronaldo and Messi failed as their teams did, with the first two performing nowhere near their club standards. Two less marketable players, Diego Forlan and Andres Iniesta, took the eventual plaudits; two players who are professionals first and marketable commodities second.
Written off too early: A drab first set of matches had critics prematurely reaching for the brickbats while ignoring the fact that most coaches set the target of not losing their first game. Irony indeed, then, that a team that lost its first match went on to win the whole thing. The Jabulani, the location, the pitches were all blamed, and then largely forgotten once the competition began in earnest with a set of rousing encounters.
A club mentality is a strong mentality: If we set aside the horrors of their final encounter, an examination of the Spanish and Dutch show that continuity is key to success. The Netherlands made the most of its limited resources, while Spain made the most of the richness of its resources, with some suggesting it did not even reach its potential here. What the teams shared was a common purpose in which egos were set aside. Barcelona and Real Madrid might be one of the world's great rivalries, but that was sidelined by Spain in favor of a team ethic. England and France's collapses after ego-driven factions threw up irreparable fault lines showed just how not to do it. And good riddance to them, too.
This time for Africa? The legacy of this tournament for the hosts has been a significant improvement in infrastructure, with major roads improved and a number of freshly built stadia. We await to see how long such benefits will be reaped, but the real gift the South Africans gave to this tournament was their welcome. The enthusiasm and determination to prove themselves as hosts was incredibly heartening, and, though organization could often struggle, it was a far better policy to accept that everyone was doing their best and that problems would eventually be sorted out. The country has made many new friends.
Lessons learned? Brazil in 2014 will provide different challenges, but many similarities, too. Its social structure is similarly stretched all the way from ridiculous wealth to rank poverty, so FIFA and organizers must try harder to include the second group while winning the lucre of the first. And the touring nature of each team at a World Cup should be put to a stop. An England fan needed to travel from Rustenberg to Cape Town to Port Elizabeth to Bloemfontein just to watch his team disappoint. Groups should be awarded to a base, as used to happen at World Cups.
All ideas just jotted down on a Monday morning that seems empty without a World Cup. Normal life will soon be returned to, but the experiences shall be cherished forever. Farewell, South Africa, and thanks for having me.
Posted by Paul Grant
JOHANNESBURG -- I'd never spent 40 consecutive days anywhere other than my home. So after spending more than a month in South Africa -- all in the same hotel room -- I thought it would be fun to count what I went through.
My visit, by the numbers:
7,915 -- direct miles from Hartford, Conn., to Johannesburg
56 -- bus/van trips between my hotel and the International Broadcast Centre, near Soccer City
1,288 -- total miles traveled on those trips
27 -- average number of minutes spent on the bus/van each way
25 -- total hours spent on the bus/van
23 -- bad meals consumed in the IBC
2 -- rats seen at the IBC
6 -- personal-high number of chocolate bars consumed in one day at the IBC
1 -- mopane worms consumed with a tangy tomato sauce while dining in Johannesburg
1 -- bull elephant in heat that stared me down while on safari
13 -- fake elephants I saw at the closing ceremonies
0 -- raindrops I saw over the 40 days and 40 nights
15 -- miniature bottles of shampoo I went through in my hotel room (not all were empty when collected by housekeeping)
1 -- entire tubes of toothpaste used
16 -- disk-shaped mini-soap I went through (or were those urinal pucks?)
9 -- partial movies I watched in my hotel room
5 -- partial movies I watched in my hotel room of which I still don't know the titles
210 -- estimated number of stories and blogs edited
14 -- consecutive times correctly spelling "Leander Schaerlaeckens"
23 -- times I heard "Wavin' Flag" by K'naan
22 -- times I enjoyed hearing "Wavin' Flag" by K'naan
2 -- bags of smoked-meat-flavored potato chips consumed
7 -- postcards sent
31 -- virtual postcards sent (yes, transparent reference)
14 -- letters sent to my wife
1 -- letters received by my wife
12 -- partial or full loads of laundry done
1 -- times Nelson Mandela and I were in the same stadium
countless -- times I felt fortunate just to be a part of it all
Posted by ESPN Stats & Information
Spain 1, Netherlands 0
Spain won the World Cup in its first trip to a World Cup final, becoming the first team since France in 1998 to achieve this feat. It also became the second team to win the World Cup while it was the reigning champion of Europe. Andres Iniesta's goal in the 116th minute was the latest match winner in a World Cup final. Thirteen players were shown a card in this match, the most since the infamous "Battle of Nuremburg" in 2006 between the Netherlands and Portugal in which 12 players were booked.
• Spain controlled possession with 59.3 percent of the touches. That's the highest total by a team in a World Cup final since the stat was first tracked, in 1966. Spain controlled 60.9 percent of the touches in its seven World Cup matches, the only team to control more than 60 percent of the touches for an entire World Cup.
• Spain completed 515 passes in the final, second-most by a team in a final since the stat was first tracked, in 1966. Brazil completed 669 passes in the 1994 final against Italy. Xavi's 90 successful passes were the second-most in a World Cup final, behind Brazil's Dunga (1994).
• The Netherlands had its worst passing day in a World Cup match -- completing a paltry 69 percent of its passes. Since the stat was first kept (1966), the Dutch completed fewer than 75 percent of their passes only twice previously, including its second-lowest percentage in the 1978 World Cup final against Argentina.
• The goals per game at this World Cup finished at 2.27, just ahead of the 2.21 at the 1990 World Cup, which was the lowest goals per game average of all time. Goals per game in the knockout stage of this World Cup were 2.75, which is the best since the 1998 World Cup (2.81).
AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko
Posted by Jemele Hill
JOHANNESBURG -- One of the golden rules of journalism is that you never, ever cheer in the press box.
I willingly broke that rule before Sunday's World Cup final when Nelson Mandela made his appearance at Soccer City.
I clapped for the 91-year-old Mandela, who was driven around the field on a golf cart as the crowd cheered enthusiastically and blew vuvuzelas. He's someone I've idolized my entire life, and I never could have dreamed that one day I'd be this close to him. What Mandela has done for South Africa and the world is unmatched, and even though I was seated in the outdoor media area high above the field, it will go down as one of the most memorable moments of the World Cup. Maybe even my life.
When you consider that Mandela's 13-year-old great-granddaughter was killed in an apparent drunken-driving accident the day of opening ceremonies, that the former South African president and freedom fighter could make it to the final game is nothing short of inspiring.
Wearing a fur cap, Mandela waved to the masses and talked enthusiastically with FIFA president Sepp Blatter before he was driven away. I soon won't forget that image, and I'm sure the 80,000 or so people who are here won't, either.
Posted by ESPN.com
The starting lineups for Spain and the Netherlands in the World Cup final have been announced, with the major talking point being Fernando Torres again left on the bench for La Furia Roja.
Spain's starting eleven: Iker Casillas, Gerard Piqué, Carles Puyol, Andres Iniesta, David Villa, Xavi Hernandez, Joan Capdevila, Xabi Alonso, Sergio Ramos, Sergio Busquets, and Pedro.
Netherlands' lineup: Maarten Stekelenburg, Gregory Van Der Wiel, John Heitinga, Joris Mathijsen, Giovanni Van Bronckhurst, Mark Van Bommel, Dirk Kuyt, Nigel De Jong, Robin Van Persie, Wesley Sneijder, and Arjen Robben.
Posted by John Brewin
JOHANNESBURG -- Soccer City, eight hours before kickoff. Like so often during this full calendar month in South Africa, reports of imminent trouble resulted in a cautious approach and an eventual wondering of what the fuss was all about.
We got here early, perhaps too early. But we'll take that. Better that than the frustration of being so near to an occasion yet not close enough for comfort. You can never be too careful.
Local intelligence informed of road blocks from the early hours, resulting from the impending presence of world leaders, 17 heads of state in total and countless members of the great and the good of entertainment and sport. And Paris Hilton. That Durban became spaghetti junction on Wednesday has meant that those ticketed to be at the world's biggest sporting occasion, bar none, are more than happy to play a waiting game. Like before the opening match, the presence or otherwise of Nelson Mandela is in question, though even he cannot overshadow this day.
The street vendors on the highway were staging one last big push for sales, some even using garish body paint as a marketing tool. A vuvuzela's market value is expected to collapse come Monday, the weapons of ear destruction having been banned from Soccer City for its next occasion when the Springboks rugby team plays New Zealand next month. Up at the stadium, soldiers were idling, probably waiting to begin building the roadblocks while a group of Dutch fans had already begun the process of getting slowly sozzled on a brand of beer that definitely did not look like FIFA's endorsed American brand.
If the nerves and the expectation have set in with those who are attending, then what of those set to play in the game of their lives? The Dutch team held an open training session Saturday evening, and relaxation and enjoyment seemed to be Bert van Maarwijk's key tenet in sending out his team for public scrutiny. There was much jocularity in heading-and-crossing practice with Dirk Kuyt and Mark van Bommel clearly the squad jokers, with many a mockery handed out to those missing the target. Wesley Sneijder, though, bore the appearance of a man in both focus and form, his shots on goal driven with precise power and his shaved head nodding in many a cross.
The hourlong session ended with further evidence that this is a squad comfortable in its own company. Piggyback rides were taken down the tunnel and there was even the odd comedy kick up the rear. If revealing that they were not afraid of the Spanish and were ready for the biggest days of their lives was the aim, then van Maarwijk's aims were met. The following news conference was more businesslike, though it is in the Dutch national identity to be forthright and straight-talking. "We just have to be ourselves," the coach said in summary.
Their Spanish opponents supplied fewer smiles in arriving at the ground an hour later. Only the first 15 minutes of their training session was publicly viewable and it was merely a session of ball skills being honed and shuttle runs being made. In making their way to the stadium, the likes of Xavi wore the requisite footballer apparatus of headphones and the thousand-yard stare. Focus on the job in hand is the latter-day Spanish way, to match the concentration levels that have brought them to this unknown territory.
Yet their news conference, first featuring David Villa, Iker Casillas and Xavi and then their coach, was no grim-faced wall of cliché. They all seemed to be enjoying themselves. So much so that Vicente Del Bosque even smiled. And he agreed with the Dutch coach.
"I don't believe Holland will change their approach simply because they are playing Spain," he said. "They have a very well-defined style, as do we. I certainly don't think they will change the script."
The script, of course, is not yet written, and is, at time of writing, hours away from its first act. It's worth the wait.
Posted by ESPN.com
Iniesta says Spain must play better if it is to win today (Telegraph): Andres Iniesta believes Spain will have to step up a gear if it is to overcome Holland in the World Cup final. Although Spain has lived up to its pre-tournament billing as favorites by reaching tonight's final, it still has not managed to hit top form in South Africa. Spain has improved as the tournament has progressed, and dominated the majority of its semifinal against Germany. However, the match also saw Spain once again fail to convert possession into goals and the side required a Carles Puyol header 17 minutes from time to secure its place in the final. And Iniesta acknowledges Spain will have to be more clinical tonight if it is to lift the trophy. "We will play better because we will probably have to if we are going to win the World Cup," he said. "What we did in the semifinal certainly won't help us to win the final. But I have confidence in my teammates and I think this group is able to take the final step."
Del Bosque: Netherlands will attack like Spain (AP): Vicente del Bosque doesn't expect the Netherlands to shy away from its attack-minded philosophy just because it's coming up against Spain in the World Cup final. The Spain coach expects the Netherlands to stick to the script tonight and not revert to a more defensive-minded approach as Champions League winner Inter Milan did against Barcelona this season. The core of Spain's lineup plays for the Spanish league champion. "I don't think the Netherlands will change its way of playing just because it is up against Spain," Del Bosque said Saturday. "I don't believe in any way there will be a change in their script, in what they are thinking of doing. I don't think so. We both have our scripts written and we shouldn't veer from them."
Casillas says nerves have hit Spain (BBC): Spain captain Iker Casillas has admitted the team has been suffering from nerves at the World Cup. The European champions face Netherlands in tonight's final, despite not always being at their brilliant best in South Africa. "We've felt a bit anxious all the way through the tournament, even the early matches," said the Real Madrid keeper. "This is a very important match -- the most important of our careers -- and we do feel nervous."
Spain players will each pocket $750,000 per man for World Cup win (The Mirror): Spain players can earn £500,000 ($750,000) each -- almost double what each Dutch player will earn for lifting the trophy tonight. Captain Iker Casillas and vice captains Xavi and Carles Puyol met Spanish FA officials before the tournament to hammer out a bonus system for success. And although it will cost £11.5 million ($17.3 million) if Spain becomes world champions, that figure is dwarfed by the cash that will come flooding in from prestigious friendlies around the world over the course of the next four years. Spain's players earned £300,000 ($450,000) each when they became European champions in Austria two years ago.
Dutch prepare for final with a trip to the zoo (Reuters): Netherlands coach Bert van Marwijk made a slight tweak to his usual pre-match preparations ahead of Sunday's World Cup final against Spain by taking his squad on an afternoon stroll around the zoo. The 58-year-old, blessed with a healthy squad for the biggest match of his life at Soccer City, said he had tried to keep preparations as normal as possible despite the magnitude of the occasion. "This is the most important match in my football life and that counts for all players as none of us ever won the World title," Van Marwijk told a news conference at Soccer City on Saturday. "Though I approach it like a normal match with the preparation we always have. We walked in the morning but this time we walked through the zoo as it was nearby. Then we rested and went training."
Netherlands adjusting to altitude again (Reuters): After starting their World Cup campaign at Soccer City on June 14 with a 2-0 win over Denmark, the Dutch are back in the same stadium at a much higher altitude than all the sea level venues they played in between. After their opener, the Dutch played twice in Durban and Cape Town while their most impressive win over Brazil in the quarterfinals was registered in Port Elizabeth. "It is good that we had some days to get used to circumstances again, it is necessary you could see that how the ball reacted today," said coach Bert Van Marwijk. Captain Giovanni van Bronckhorst, playing his final match before retirement, agreed the change in altitude takes some time to get used to. "You have to adjust again, especially with long passes through the air as the ball moves completely different, but it during the match it just will be a matter of course," the fullback said.
Robben determined to play through the pain against Spain (The Telegraph): Holland's Arjen Robben will play through the pain in the final against Spain, after revealing that the hamstring injury he sustained prior to the World Cup is still troubling him. Robben missed Holland's first two group games but was rushed back into the team after treatment. "I am not yet at my very best, but that is because I'm still getting pain from the injury," said Robben, who sat out part of Friday's training session. "I can still play; but it is not like I can play a pain-free game. You have to be fit to be at your very best, but I will try to do as much as possible." Dutch coach Bert van Marwijk conceded they had "taken a risk" with Robben's fitness.
Posted by Leander Schaerlaeckens
PORT ELIZABETH, South Africa -- As Germany's team took turns shuffling across the bright red podium built on the already badly battered grass here Saturday night, it looked like to many of them the bronze medals that were hung around their necks were a mere consolation prize.
It shouldn't be.
Germany achieved something quite remarkable at this World Cup.
Die Mannschaft managed to crack a few smiles as they took positions behind the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa board for their official medal pictures but quickly scooted off, exchanged handshakes and a few hugs with support staff and walked off to thank the many Germans who had materialized for this game. Mostly, though, the look on their faces wondered about what might have been, rather than express delight at what had been achieved.
Sure, playing in the third-place game after reaching the semifinals isn't optimal, but if one takes a step back and puts Germany's tournament in perspective, one can't but realize that what they did was rather astonishing.
Less than a month before the tournament started, it became evident that Michael Ballack's ankle injury would keep him out of the tournament. Germany, it now realized, would be traveling to South Africa without its on-field general and a bunch of young, mostly unknown players.
Yet it fought valiantly, reinvented its calculated defense-first game and dazzled with its quick attacking combinations, knocking out more acclaimed England and Argentina sides, and falling to Spain only in the dying minutes. It achieved, by all logical interpretations, far more than it was supposed to.
And if even that doesn't bring any consolation, the realization that in four years this young German side will have matured into a frightening team should.
Posted by ESPN Stats & Information
Germany 3, Uruguay 2
Germany won the third-place game for the second consecutive World Cup by defeating Uruguay 3-2 on Saturday. Germany became only the second team at this World Cup to win after trailing in the second half, joining the Netherlands, which did so against Brazil in the quarterfinals. Uruguay had one of its best games of the tournament, controlling 47.3 percent of the touches and completing 305 total passes with 169 passes in the opposing half, all tournament highs. Uruguay's 305 passes completed is also its most in a single World Cup match since 1990.
• Germany's Bastian Schweinsteiger finished the World Cup with 723 touches, which is second-most by a German since the stat was first tracked, in 1966. His 445 passes completed were also third-most by a German player in a single World Cup.
• Uruguay scored 11 goals at this World Cup, third only to Germany (16) and the Netherlands (12). However, La Celeste put up some of the worst passing numbers by a team to score at least 10 goals in a World Cup. Its 72.6 percent overall passing accuracy and 64.5 percent passing accuracy in the opposition half are second-lowest by a team to score at least 10 goals at a World Cup since 1966.
• Uruguay controlled 44.8 percent of the touches at this World Cup, the lowest by any team to reach at least the semifinals since the World Cup went to its current knockout-stage format in 1986.
• Saturday's match lived up to the reputation of the third-place game, which is usually a goal bonanza. The 3rd-place game has averaged 3.94 goals per game, over a goal more than the 2.86 average for the World Cup final. Only two of the last eight World Cup 3rd-place games have had fewer than four total goals, 1990 and 1998.
Posted by Jemele Hill
JOHANNESBURG -- The friendliness of the South African people has been noted by just about all of us here covering the World Cup, but even after several weeks in this country, it's still unnerving.
The hardest thing to get used to is the graciousness with which South Africans give directions. I know people in the United States will give you directions, but in major cities -- where I've mostly lived -- a lot of times if you ask someone how to get somewhere, they'll look at you like you just asked them for a kidney.
Here, it's considered common courtesy not only to give people directions, but also to drive them there personally! I've had that experience at least 10 times while out on assignment, and I'm amazed each time it happens.
The lack of paranoia in South Africa strangely heightens my own. In America, if I asked someone for directions and they told me to follow them, I'd automatically assume they were a tristate murderer.
The culture of fear doesn't exist in South Africa as it does in America, even though crime is an issue. It's certainly refreshing. But it says a lot about the world I'm used to living in that I can't adjust to good intentions.
Posted by Chris Jones
JOHANNESBURG -- I first saw Cover it Live (our live interactive game application inside GameCast) on a big screen in a boardroom in New York City; I sat there and blinked a few times and decided it was stupid.
That meeting also marked the first time I met Leander Schaerlaeckens, this young Dutch kid who spoke more languages than I knew existed. I decided he was stupid, too.
Then came our first game here in South Africa, the host nation against Mexico at Soccer City. Leander and I sat next to each other, luck of the draw, and we ended up doing Cover it Live together. We stepped on each other's toes a little -- mostly, I stepped on his -- and I didn't quite understand that readers could see only the comments we posted, so there were a few hiccups there.
But we had a good time. I came around. For me, Cover it Live was actually a good outlet. It was a way of sharing my experience with people I came to regard as friends. Being at a World Cup game was a lifelong dream of mine, and it was fun to vent my excitement, even if it was via hastily typed semi-sentences.
Leander and I worked the next game together, and the game after that, and we gradually found our rhythm. It just kind of happened. Leander mostly worked play-by-play, using his actual soccer knowledge to fine effect. I mostly played the goof, responsible for sorting through the comments and ragging on people. Leander was Conan O'Brien, in that he's tall and has a ridiculous name. I was Andy Richter, except not funny and without my own critically acclaimed but ultimately unsuccessful spin-off. It all felt very comfortable. It felt like home.
And much to my surprise, Cover it Live took on a life of its own. I'm pretty sure we were responsible for whole percentage drops in the American GDP. We had so many people watching along with us from their office cubicles, from counters at car rental companies, in hotel rooms and the backs of their biology classes. Thousands of comments rolled past; sometimes I felt like Lucy juggling chocolates. At one point, "Leander Schaerlaeckens" was the fourth-most searched name on Google. When the U.S. played Algeria, we had something like a million hits and 18,000 comments, around 200 a minute. It was nuts, but a good kind of nuts, like cashews.
At the end of that game, when Landon Donovan scored, it felt like that YouTube video with people erupting in bars across America, except it was all contained on my laptop screen, vibrating across my desk.
But the best part about Cover it Live for me has been the sense of community that has developed with it. Running jokes became part of the deal, rewards for people who had watched with us from the beginning. During boring games, we riffed on '80s music, childhood snacks, breakfast cereals and -- in a particularly bizarre edition for me -- my pants. (Thanks to Jemele Hill for that one.) My wife began logging in. Even when people were at home and could watch the game with their own eyes, they clicked through our little conversations.
It became, I think for both Leander and me, our favorite part of covering the World Cup. I ended up doing Cover it Live from my hotel room when I wasn't at the game, just for the sense of connection across the water. I did one of the semifinals from a curry house in Durban. I needed that fix. I wanted that sense of belonging.
Now we have only two games left. I can't believe it's almost over. I'm actually pretty broken up about it. People have asked whether Leander and I will work other games, other sports. I have no idea what the future holds. This might be it for us. If it is, it was a fantastic time in my life. I wouldn't change a thing, except for eating that curry in Durban. I probably wouldn't do that again.
So thanks, Leander Alphabets. I'm sorry I thought you were stupid.
And thanks to the hundreds of thousands of you who were here with us: Guy on the 47th Floor, kipa, Kyle, Elizabeth, Fat Lady, Chris' Pants, Emily, Jonathan, da weef . We'll see you tonight, and we'll see you tomorrow night, and then we'll see you when we see you. I'll miss all of you in the meantime, and everything else about this crazy, beautiful ride.
It's time to get to work.
Posted by Mark Young
JOHANNESBURG -- Among the odd quirks of covering the World Cup are the surreal moments that always come at the end. Jumping out of the "World Cup Express" in the middle of a downpour (sans umbrella) to beat the all-time traffic snarl leading to Yokohama Stadium on finals day in 2002 became a tad mind-bending as neon signs flashed by. Yet four years later it was easily topped by the Zinedine Zidane head-butt heard around the world. And now I'm getting a front-row seat to something rarely seen in professional sports: athletes exuding charm on the eve of the biggest game of their lives.
A couple of days ago "Clockwork Oranje" became fellow guests at my hotel. I anticipated disruption and got irresistible Dutch casual cool instead. A nod from Wesley Sneijder in the lobby, a regular coaching coffee klatch in the lounge, and exchange of greetings and good wishes with Rafael van der Vaart, Andre Ooijer and Eljero Elia on the elevator. More importantly, it seems the entire team embraces the wonderful fans that have painted South Africa with goodwill and oranje in the last month.
Not too many oranje wigs and hats have been allowed in the lobby, but the players have happily posed for photos and signed autographs for the fortunate few who have passed muster with the fine security corps that have provided my safe passage for the past month (many, many thanks for all your diligence and hard work).
Bert Van Marwijk observes the scene with a knowing smile. This might be old (crazy Dutch) hat to the Netherlands head coach, but it's new to me. I thought watching Joan Rivers promote "A Piece of Work" on Charlie Rose's show on South African television would be my most surreal moment on this trip. Then on Friday I went to a nearby lion park and saw a troupe of World Cup referees being rounded up outside the gift shop. When Jerome Valcke said a different referring system would be in place for Brazil 2014, I hadn't anticipated that the shoddy bunch of officials in South Africa would be fed to the lions to facilitate this. That didn't come to pass (be nice, people), but a casual chat with Dirk Kuyt did.
While sipping an adult beverage at the hotel bar with a couple of mates Friday, it was, to say the least, a little strange to see many of the stars who have lit up the World Cup hanging out in leather chairs within a botched short corner. When Kuyt came up to the bar to place an order (three waters), I moved over to give him room.
As a paid-up member of the Fourth Estate, I should have grilled him on all manner of topics, but it was a night off for both of us and I happily reverted to the "gobsmacked" starstruck fan I'm far too old to be, but make no apology for. The Liverpool star gave me a genial glance, so I asked him how he was doing. We chatted for the next five minutes like we were swapping yarns at McConvilles Pub in Newry on a starry Irish night. Kuyt was beaming. The man was enjoying his World Cup. And so was I.
It got better about 15 minutes later when Nigel de Jong went over to a youngster in a Brazil sweatshirt and engaged him for a couple of minutes, the kid's eyes getting bigger and bigger. The Dutch hard man then headed to the elevators, only to return 10 minutes later with a Dutch national team jersey (from the Uruguay semifinal, no less) and gave it to the boy. I wasn't expecting a Joe Greene Coke commercial to take place right in front of me at the World Cup. But there it was.
But that's the wonder of this event. A psychic octopus becomes an international star, and every now and then, if you are very lucky, you get affirmation of why you love this beautiful game so much.
Posted by John Brewin
Apologies for this one.
1986: Argentina 3-2 West Germany: A Macclesfield front room, with my mother and father. I celebrated wildly when Jorge Burruchaga scored the winner on Diego Maradona's through pass.
1990: West Germany 1-0 Argentina: A different Macclesfield front room. This time I was alone. I celebrated wildly when Andreas Brehme scored the penalty, when two Argies got sent off and especially when I saw Maradona crying his heart out.
1994: Brazil 0-0 Italy (Brazil wins on penalties): A random bar in Calella de la Costa, Costa Brava, Spain. The first night of a holiday with five other friends, celebrating the end of our schooldays. Terrible match, wild celebrations when Roberto Baggio misses. Later on that evening, one of our numbers sang an extremely camp version of "I Will Survive." Suspicions -- later confirmed -- were aroused.
1998: France 3-0 Brazil: A hostel in Surry Hills, Sydney. The match kicked off at 4:30 a.m. local time. The previous day must have ended in a good night because I slept all the way through and was forced to watch the replay the next morning.
2002: Brazil 2-0 Germany: The Soccernet office, Hammersmith, London. The end of a long tournament that involved getting up at ridiculously early hours. I was on photo duty and got in trouble for using an image of a Brazilian fan in a state of partial dress. We later repaired to a local pub for wild celebrations.
2006: Italy 1-1 France (Italy wins on penalties): The same seat in the same Soccernet office. The end of a long tournament that involved working ridiculously long hours. Just me and a much-missed freelancer as all hell broke loose when Zinedine Zidane exploded. I repaired to my tiny flat and slept for days afterward.
2010: Netherlands ?-? Spain: A packed press box at Soccer City, Johannesburg, with me in it. Allow me a moment of smuggery, if you will. I shall be there. I am delighted and know I am extremely privileged to be able to say that. My usual state of cynical being has been set aside, as it has been for much of this tournament. I can never criticize FIFA again ...
It is the question I have been most asked before and during this tournament. Would I be at the final? My answers have been guarded, in the hope that a lowering of expectations means I can set aside disappointment. Because that one always works, doesn't it? I am not yet, and might never be, the type of veteran or journalistic big-hitter for whom such occasions are only a small break from the routine. I was asked the fateful question for the last time on Friday by a friend from, yes, Macclesfield. Tentatively, I made for the FIFA website to check my status, finally arriving at the right page and scrolling down in trepidation. "Approved" read the legend. I celebrated wildly.
The easing of the match schedule as the tournament whittles down its participants has allowed me to see more of South Africa, with safaris undertaken and more socializing done. A lengthy road trip to Durban allowed me to absorb breathtaking scenery, and a city very different to my Johannesburg base. All memories that will hopefully last and some of which are stored on a ropey camera. But I am here for the football. That is the true purpose of my visit and the doubts had crept in on submitting my application after midnight on Wednesday. Perhaps I should support the Dutch for removing Brazil and their 800 journalists, all of whom were almost certainly further up the list than a lowly "Internet Journalist," as I am so categorized. But I care not who wins, it's just great to be here, to coin a familiar phrase.
Please forgive my self-indulgence. I am very excited.
Posted by Leander Schaerlaeckens
PORT ELIZABETH, South Africa -- They've been handed out to kids all over Africa. And if everything works out, they'll never need another. They're soccer balls, and they're indestructible.
The ball was conceived by Tim Jahnigen -- who writes and produces music and invents things -- after seeing Darfurian kids play with a soccer ball made of glued-together trash on CNN. The new ball -- named after its very own non-profit, One World Futbol -- came to exist after Sting put up the cash for research and development.
The ball is designed to never wear out, never deflate and never stop bouncing, the perfect tool for all of your trash-heap soccer games. Even if it's stabbed with a knife, it recovers perfectly. Not even a lion could damage it. In fact, it self-adjusts to altitude and temperature, so as to play true at all times.
They're being distributed for free the world over to children in need of a good ball.
Check them out here.
Now that we have these, surely the Jabulani can be thrown into the nearest skip.
Posted by Leander Schaerlaeckens
PORT ELIZABETH, South Africa -- He expertly maneuvered his cart through the grocery store, knowing the shortest routes to the choice cuts of beef, beer and potato chips. "I'll show you a real braai," my driver, Jonathan, had assured me, referring to the national obsession with South Africa's brand of barbecueing.
This was not a time to joke around. This was serious business.
Once we got to the meat aisle, he flipped through the dozens of strip steaks on offer until he found the right ones. When he finally decided on two, he cast them aside and decided on another cut, again sampling them for thickness, color and how much rind they carried (the more the better; it helps avoid drying out during the slow-roasting process). Two giant slabs of steak eventually made it into the cart.
"Don't worry," he said. "We've got more meat at home."
My biggest fear was that he was serious.
When we got to his house, this mystical braai turned out to be just a regular stone barbecue, not unlike the ones we have in the U.S. -- except that it seemed to be built as part of the house's structure, a good metaphor for the seriousness of braai around here.
He started off with a big, meticulously laid pile of wood, and set it ablaze. After about half an hour, the pile was knocked over and spread out to create a base of fire, if you will. Then a gas pipe, evidently designed especially for this purpose, entered the fray, and gas was pumped to further stoke the fire. Temperature was controlled with a blow dryer and an arsenal of special tools. All the while, Jonathan's father walked in and out to offer advice, analysis and insight. Jonathan needed none. He knew what he was doing. With the precision of a neurosurgeon he got the fire to the desired temperature, using a special lamp to check the glow on the smoldering charcoal, which had been added.
After about an hour the time had come.
Bring out the meat.
On went the giant steaks, a heap of lamb cutlets, stuffed portabella mushrooms, garlic bread and an army of potatoes. The artist's paints had been mixed to his liking, and he was ready to put his brush to the blank canvas.
How would I like my meat cooked?
Astonished that anybody could actually control such things on a barbecue, I blurted out "medium rare."
Another half-hour passed. The artist stepped back and checked his work from another angle, in another light.
Time to plate up, he adjudged.
On came the giant steak, the potatoes, the garlic bread, the lamb cuts and the mushrooms.
A stuffed braai convert.
Posted by Jeff Carlisle
JOHANNESBURG -- FIFA announced its 10 nominees for the Golden Ball on Friday. Two would have sufficed.
Without question, the 10 players selected by FIFA's Technical Study Group to signify the tournament's most outstanding player are all talented performers. But with a tip of the cap to Uruguay forward Diego Forlan, it's a two-horse race between the Netherlands' Wesley Sneijder and Spain's David Villa. The rest are just there to make up the numbers, a list that includes Asamoah Gyan of Ghana, Andres Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez of Spain, Lionel Messi of Argentina, Mesut Ozil and Bastian Schweinsteiger of Germany and Sneijder's teammate, Arjen Robben.
Certainly, some of the nominees are dubious choices. Lionel Messi? Really? He may be the most scintillating player on the planet, but he hardly showed it in Argentina's five tournament games. And Gyan's inclusion smacks of political correctness. He may have scored three goals, but rightly or wrongly, he'll forever be remembered for squandering Ghana's Golden Ticket to the semifinals by missing a stoppage time penalty against Uruguay. Robben's inclusion is also somewhat suspect, since he missed almost the entire group stage due to injury.
And why so little love for defenders? Spain has clearly proved that the best defense is a good offense, but it can be argued that defender Carles Puyol has had a better tournament than the likes of Messi or Gyan. Ditto for underrated Paraguayan defenders Antolin Alcaraz and Paulo Da Silva. And had Uruguayan captain Diego Lugano not been injured in his side's quarterfinal with Ghana, he almost certainly would have been among the nominees.
Moving further up field, Netherlands holding midfielder Mark Van Bommel has been one of his side's unsung heroes, effectively linking defense to attack, and should be among the 10 players nominated. Such is the fate of those players tasked with doing the dirty work.
Of course, such discussions constitute an academic exercise. Sunday's final will largely determine who will win the award, and the excellence of Sneijder and Villa will make either player a worthy winner. Spain, with forward Fernando Torres struggling, would be nowhere without Villa's five goals. Sneijder, who has five goals of his own, has been just as vital to the Dutch. And after winning three trophies this season with club side Inter Milan, he will attempt to complete a rare quadruple on Sunday.
Posted by Jemele Hill
JOHANNESBURG -- Team USA is still alive in the World Cup.
In Alexandra Township, one of the most impoverished areas in Johannesburg, FIFA is hosting the seven-day Football for Hope Festival -- a tournament with 32 teams from various countries featuring young players with backgrounds as underprivileged as some of the children in the township.
This American delegation is made up of teenagers from different parts of the country and they represent three different grassroots soccer organizations -- the Starfinder Foundation, Soccer in the Streets and the Urban Soccer Collective. Not only do these organizations teach kids to appreciate the beautiful game, but they use soccer to teach them about what's important in life.
They don't want to unearth the next Landon Donovan as much as they want the next college graduate.
"They have used the sport to acquire additional skills that carry over into other parts of their life," said Jill Robbins, executive director for Soccer in the Streets and a Team USA chaperone. "They're rising college students. It's very exciting to see how each of our leaders was chosen and how they have come together."
Notice Robbins said "leaders," not athletes.
Team USA has been in Johannesburg for over a week, and as you might expect, the experience has been a lot like summer camp. The kids had never met before South Africa. Most days, they wake up at 6 a.m. but must be in bed by 11 p.m.
"Sometimes we get along and sometimes we don't," said Mustafa Alpha, an 18-year-old from Philadelphia who emigrated from Sierra Leone. "We're just getting to know each other and learning how to play with each other."
The soccer end of things hasn't turned out as well as Team USA would have liked. The team has struggled in the group phase, winning just one match. The team lost one of its best players early in the tournament and couldn't recover. Jose Fonseca, an 18-year-old from Atlanta, was kicked in the face while trying to head a ball and suffered a small fracture in his cheek.
Even with a swelled cheek and a bout with the flu, Fonseca still wouldn't trade the experience he's had in Africa.
"A lot of people talk about South Africa like it's a bad country," Fonseca said. "It's not really that bad. It's a great country."
Posted by Jemele Hill
Apparently while I'm covering the World Cup in South Africa, I am also doubling as a computer whiz who is capable of breaking complicated military codes.
Sometime last night, readers began e-mailing me this story from Wired.com, asking if I was the same Jemele Hill who was able to crack the code involving the United States military's new Cyber Command, which is some kind of elaborate government security team of Jack Bauer-esque proportions.
I've heard of cases of mistaken identity before, but I never thought it would happen to me. I can barely remember my own computer passwords, and I thought I was the kid from "War Games" when I finally figured out how to download video from my flip-cam -- it only took me an hour.
So in the interest of national security, I'm setting the record straight: I am not the person who figured out Cyber Command's logo translated into 32 digits that were the unit's mission statement. I have no idea what that means, by the way.
Considering that I'm leaving South Africa in four days, I just hope this case of mistaken identity doesn't cause me any travel issues. If all of a sudden my credit cards don't work and I hear a strange clicking on my phone, I'm calling Ralph Nader.
Posted by Leander Schaerlaeckens
CAPE TOWN, South Africa -- Drive through any of South Africa's countless townships and you'll find kids playing soccer barefoot alongside the road on makeshift fields with makeshift balls made from plastic bags tightly wound around an empty can.
Blikkiesdorp United's field lies on a strip of rocky beach sand, 50 yards wide, outside the concrete fencing separating Blikkiesdorp from the rest of Ward 19. The strip has been cleared of most of the litter. Today, the under-10s are having their daily practice, disturbed only by little girls doing handstands alongside the field, stray dogs and pedestrians who didn't notice they were stepping over the invisible sidelines. Sweaters represent goal posts. A pole holding up power lines has become an obstacle to dribble around in the chaotic pickup game between two dozen boys and a few girls. Goals are celebrated as if they're World Cup game winners.
Blikkiesdorp United is the brainchild of Errol van der Byl, a short, gaunt, middle-aged man with a beard connecting the black hat sitting atop his head with the pink and orange polo hugging his frail shoulders. "I started this club because I saw here there's nothing," he said. "Here the kids are running around and doing funny things -- drugs, steal, break-ins and all that -- and I thought, I have to do something. Otherwise, it will be hell to pay by the end of the day. I thought the best way to do it was to organize a soccer team around here."
That was eight months ago, when van der Byl started out with a handful of kids. He now has 90 players from ages 7 to about 24, comprising seven teams in five age categories. To the great pride of van der Byl, they are all registered with the South African Football Association and take part in official competitions. The only currency he is paid is the satisfaction of having made a difference.
A donation of 14 sets of uniforms and cleats made this possible. Uniforms are mandatory in league play. "From one kit, the team developed," van der Byl said. That one batch of uniforms is now clothing all seven teams, varying wildly in size. It's not perfect, admitted van der Byl. On game days, when different age groups play back to back, the kids quickly strip off their uniforms and hand them to the next person, shoes and socks included. Fourteen pairs of socks for seven people. If two games are held at the same time, one has to be forfeited.
The teams practice four days a week and play games on Saturdays and Sundays. If nothing else, it keeps them busy. And it puts them into a regular routine that also incorporates school. "When they wake up in the morning, they know if they come from school ... there is a team they're playing with," said Bern de Kock, a community leader. Van der Byl puts a premium on education with his kids, and insists they only come to practice once their homework is done. "Even the principal knows that I'm the coach here," van der Byl said. "And when there's anything [wrong], he calls me here because we are working very closely and we try to sort it out because it is my main priority [for the kids to] stay in school." As a result of the rigid structure, his kids attend school regularly and almost none smoke. Even for those with promise -- and there certainly are those, at first glance -- schooling is made primary.
"The way forward is to see them achieve whatever they didn't have in their households and so on," de Kock said. "The soccer is encouraging them to see a brighter life in the future for them -- to stay focused, to stay in school, to lift them up."
Posted by Luke Cyphers
JOHANNESBURG -- From a personal, technical standpoint, this has not been the greatest of World Cups.
The trip so far provided plenty of, um, incidents, including a canceled outbound flight, a missed connection due to the cancelation, a rerouting through Europe so as to guarantee two straight red-eyes, a credential snafu upon arrival in Johannesburg, a BlackBerry breakdown, a separate e-mail stoppage and an in-country, air-travel nail-biter that involved loss of cabin pressure, where one flight attendant could be seen sprinting to the cockpit with oxygen tanks, and another uttered the words, "We don't think we'll need an emergency landing."
But the soccer has been fantastic, and the people of South Africa even better. Here's an example, just a little sample. On a flight from Cape Town to Johannesburg, two South African businessmen seated near me discussed the previous night's Netherlands-Uruguay semifinal. They could not fathom how Uruguay superstar Diego Forlan had been subbed for late in the match, with the game still on the line.
As I had been at the Uruguay postmatch news conference, I felt compelled to chime in that Los Charruas coach Oscar Tabarez revealed Forlan had sustained an injury early in the match and couldn't continue to play. The businessmen thanked me for clearing that up, and a conversation ensued.
One of the men, an immigrant from England whom I'll call Jeff, since that's his name, spoke quite movingly about how important the World Cup had been for South Africa. The tournament brought a spirit of togetherness that hadn't been seen since the Springbok rugby team's "Invictus" victory 15 years ago, he said, and renewed his sense of optimism for his adopted homeland.
He spoke of how he gobbled up his maximum seven-game allotment of tickets, and how he snuck an eighth match, the semifinal in Cape Town, onto his list when a colleague gave him a spare.
His only regret? He had been collecting his stubs from every match, but somehow lost the one he used for Uruguay-Netherlands. I reached into my bag and gave him my press ticket, telling him I had no need for it.
Jeff's eyes misted a little. "You have no idea how much this means," he said. "Thank you."
And then, suddenly, he removed the multihued scarf from his neck and placed it around mine. "Take this," he said. It was an official South Africa supporter's scarf, he said, "like the one [President] Jacob Zuma wears during games."
Now I was the one who was touched. In a minute, all the petty miseries of the trip faded, replaced by a beautiful, tangible reminder of this often magical event, this always fascinating place and its kind and generous people.
I don't normally don a scarf, even on the coldest days in my upstate New York home. This one, though, I will wear with pride.
Because I am a supporter of South Africa.
Posted by Leander Schaerlaeckens
PORT ELIZABETH, South Africa -- In some ways South Africa is very different from the United States. Race still dictates much of what you'll be able to do with your life. And the middle class, while booming, is a new phenomenon here. Many live in startling poverty while others live a lifestyle so lavish most Americans couldn't even fathom it. Drive 10 miles in any direction and you'll see people living in shacks. Yet any square mile in the rich suburbs would suffice to tape an entire season of "Cribs."
In other ways, South Africa and the United States are very much the same. Fathers worry about their daughters -- all of our van drivers seem to have teenage girls with boyfriends they don't entirely trust -- pop culture and its makers are king, and, as I discovered tonight, foodies are on the ascent.
My driver had recommended it. It's where one takes a girl one wants to impress. I suppose my driver wanted to impress me. Pescadeya, a restaurant known far and wide for its steaks. And how lovely they were. Anybody who says this is still a developing country is a fool.
Port Elizabeth, I've discovered, is a lot like Austin, Texas, only with an ocean out back, rather than the Gulf of Mexico, and without the bother of people who refuse to step into any car that doesn't do 30 miles to the gallon.
A lavish three-course dinner for two by one of the hottest young chefs in town set me back all of 40 bucks, including a generous tip. Developed-world dinner at developing-world prices. That third-place game is suddenly looking a lot better.
Posted by Chris Jones
SOMEWHERE ON THE ROAD TO JOHANNESBURG -- There have been times during this trip when I've forgotten where I was, exactly.
Today we stopped on the drive back from Durban at a roadside restaurant called Maxi's. It's the African equivalent of Denny's -- diner food -- and I ordered a cheeseburger and a chocolate milkshake from a waitress with a notepad and an apron around her waist.
Out the window, we could see golden fields and gently rolling hills. Cars whizzed by on the highway. Children ran through a playground. There weren't any trees to block the view. I ate my cheeseburger and I thought that I might have been in Kansas, or Nebraska, or North Dakota, or Wyoming. I might have been on the road to Sioux City or Missoula. If the van weren't on the other side of the road, I could easily have slipped into my old self, the man I used to be, for the rest of the afternoon.
But then we kept driving, and the thing about Africa is, it will always reveal itself, eventually. There are small signposts everywhere -- outlines of this unmistakable continent on truck trailers; black streaks of purposefully burned grass across fields; a tin-shack shanty town or a woman on the side of the road, hitchhiking, with her burden balanced on her head.
And then there are those big things, those moments that catch in your throat, when you remember that you could only be here.
We've just gone through a tollbooth and come over a rise, and there in the distance rises Johannesburg, unmistakable, with its battered skyscrapers and thin towers, with its aerials and smoke. The dust and the smog are acting as a magnifying glass and a filter for the setting sun, and it's as big as I've ever seen it, and as orange.
I was just thinking that it was the same sun my wife will feel on her face today, that my boys will play under in our backyard today, and that made me feel closer to them for a few dozen miles.
But now that I look at that sun again, now that I'm watching it sink below this particular horizon, I know that I could only be Africa, that I could only be a million miles away.
Posted by Luke Cyphers
JOHANNESBURG -- The great World Cup crime wave of 2010 had better hurry up and start.
With four days left of the tournament, South Africa's feared criminal culture seems to have taken the month off.
As we reported, police officials said they were going all-out to prevent crime during the tournament and change the country's image to foreigners as dangerous.
Mission accomplished, so far. A heavy security presence, which included 45,000 new police hires, blanketed every venue, as well as business and tourism districts in the host cities. Beyond some robberies of journalists in the days before the tournament, few violent crimes against World Cup visitors were reported, and special courts set up to deal with tournament-related crime have had little business.
The New York Times this week reports that in the 54 special courtrooms, 172 cases came up through July 5, resulting in 104 convictions, seven acquittals, 28 dismissals or withdrawals and 33 still pending. Somewhere, the judge at the old Philadelphia Eagles court in Veterans Stadium is smirking.
For what it's worth, the worst crime personally witnessed by this reporter, aside from Kader Keita's dive, was a drunken Dutch fan hurling on a sidewalk a few hours after the Netherlands beat Uruguay. A little shocking, and undoubtedly a violation of some ordinance.
But it appears the debut of "CSI: Cape Town" will have to wait, at least until after the tournament.
Posted by Jemele Hill
JOHANNESBURG -- I spent most of Thursday morning in Alexandra Township and was struck by how many thick, electrical wires hung above the rows of squatter homes.
My driver, Dolf, told me that almost all those wires were connected illegally. Being from Detroit, I've known a few people with illegal electrical connections, but I've never seen practically an entire city running, well, illegally.
Illegal connections are a huge problem in South Africa, especially in the townships, where a high percentage of the residents are unemployed and impoverished. An estimated one out of five households in South Africa is without electricity, and along the freeways there are several signs warning people about the dangers of hooking up their electricity illegally.
But in Alexandra Township, it's not just the electricity that's illegal. It's one gigantic, illegal city. There are endless rows of shacks made of tin and aluminum, illegal homes built by the poor. Every block has two or three illegal shebeens (bars). The hair salons, glass-cutting shops, seamstresses, auto shops, food stands and cell phone stores -- most, if not all, are built and managed illegally. I saw a church and couldn't tell whether it was illegal, too.
Yet on every corner, there are at least three or four police officers. I'm betting they won't be there after the World Cup ends Sunday.
As Dolf and I made our way to the township border, a police officer motioned for Dolf to pull over to the side of the road. I thought he might have been busted for speeding. He handed his driver's license to the officer, and after a friendly exchange, she let us go.
I asked him why we got pulled over.
"The officer wanted to make sure I wasn't driving illegally."
Posted by Leander Schaerlaeckens
PORT ELIZABETH, South Africa -- A mob assembled in front of town hall.
People looked annoyed by something -- sufficiently enough to consider it worth their time to take to the streets and confront those who had drawn their considerable ire.
They had signs, indicating that they wanted a 15-percent pay raise and some respect – they wouldn't settle for a penny less.
They had sticks too. This could go in any direction.
Then they broke it down.
Not the town hall though, or the skulls of policemen.
No, they broke it down and got a fierce rhythm going, the sticks serving not for bashing heads but for bashing drums.
The quality of their ad hoc percussion was such that it drew a crowd, not to mention attention to their cause.
Another lesson learned about Africa: Here, music is more than something people actually know how to make and move to. It's a form of communication. That's why, after initial skepticism, I, too, am a convert to the vuvuzela. It helps, of course, that none of the dozen or so subsequent games I attended were anywhere near as loud as South Africa's opening game against Mexico. The vuvuzela streams excitement from one person to those around him.
That too is why I'm astonished that they've been banned from South Africa's rugby game against New Zealand on Aug. 21 at Ellis Park in Johannesburg -- a soccer venue, no less. To understand rhythm, after all, to understand the vuvuzela, is perhaps to understand Africa.