Saturday, July 03, 2010

Round of Eight Day One - The Pagan View

Netherlands v Brazil 2:1

Now regular readers of my writings are accustomed to incisive, educated analysis and poignant, accurate predictions, so I will not disappoint.

It was the M&Ms and, the Nike curse.

The M&Ms, you may remember, were very clear: the Finals, at which my son will be present, will be a Spanish victory over the Netherlands. Hence, I really should have known that Brazil was gone.

But for the issue of the Nike curse I cannot claim responsibility. The Nike curse is an astute observation by my Facebook compatriot Gav Gforce Cheesebladder.

The Nike ads, according to Cheesebladder (See what you miss when you ignore the advertising?), gave away the game with the slogan, "Write the future?" All the stars featured in the ads have gone home - Ronaldo, Rooney, Canavaro, Ribery, Drogba - except... Robinho. In Cheesebladders own words, "The Nike curse says Holland will win!"

But why a curse? Is it from FIFA itself?

A running theme in the local media is that FIFA has taken all and although South Africa has been gifted with a warm buzz, it isn't going to come off much better. One article developed the theme that, "Everyone in South Africa was under the rule of Law, now South Africa is under the Law of FIFA." So FIFA itself needs to be careful, because Africa is traditionally a big force when it comes to casting curses.

But a parallel theme is that FIFA is prosecuting all sorts of very small operators for appropriating copyrighted terms like "World Cup 2010" (I'm serious), yet Nike, who is not a sponsor of FIFA World Cup 2010, flagrantly bases its entire advertising campaign around it. Well Nike is being prosecuted by the fates. Robinho, it might be argued, was not only the last of their featured heroes to go, but arguably the only one that did not pretty much disgrace themselves before leaving.

Uruguay v Ghana 1:1 (4:2 on penalties)

Jesus. This was the game that both Jacob and I thought should have been cancelled for lack of interest. We watched the afternoon's blockbuster (described in precise detail above) at the fan-zone down at Durban's beach, which was very cool, but we came home and went to the same local pub, The Jackie Horner, for the evening's game, as much because we needed something to eat as anything.

Lets's summarise Ghana's journey by pointing out that it began in the Group Stage by scoring only from the penalty spot and ended by missing no less than three (out of five) penalties. I'm counting the one during play obviously.

We certainly didn't regret watching it. There was much great play from both sides, but from the beginning, once again, it was clear that Ghana was being nursed by the ref. Once again, I do not think it was intentional, but Uruguay is an expedable non-favourite and the entire continent, and much of the world, including most of the referee's family and friends, wants Ghana to win, so the errors fall in one direction more than others, and only in Uruguay's favour at the least decisive moments. That doesn't cover the non-errors however, and Uruguay's free kick was well deserved legally as well as karmically. What an effing kick!

In a packed pub of celebration and joviality, which built brilliantly throughout the evening, the lagers flowing, Jacob became the only person in the place openly celebrating Uruguay's triumph. I had long before had the sense to put my neutral observer face on, but it was time to leave the Jackie Horner. We left it in a dark, quiet, deeply glum state, and I must wonder how many millions of Africans shared that dire mood last night.

Once the penalty shoot-out began, most of the technique of the players became irrelevant and all of the tactics and coaching became irrelevant. The final call in our game, once two teams have battered one another into a draw, might be seen as rather stupid, or it may be seen as the highest drama of all.

Neither the big, beautiful African, nor the suave and swarthy Latin can win the girl's heart. She herself is torn between two lovers. The suitors have cast their spells in every gentlemanly way possible, for she would only love a gentleman. The time passes, and more time. If this destructive, relentless triangle is not to last forever, there really is only one solution. Swords or pistols gentleman? That's what a penalty shoot-out is.

As the game went into the hands of the gods, I for the first time fully expected Ghana to win. This is Africa: fiery, pulsing, magical Africa. The sheer weight of will of the hundreds of millions witnessing this penalty shootout from near and far must inevitably push the Ghanians to the virtually impossible place of a semi-final spot. Hell, at that point I wanted it to, for the sheer, absurd African joy of it.

And against this weight, Jacob kept his faith in Justicia. It was still undeniable that Uruguay should win. And he was right.

Sebastian Abreu, stepping up for Uruguay's fourth and winning penalty kick, was a man possessed. From the moment the camera found him there was no doubt in my mind that he was going to do it. He looked evil, like an undead creature embalmed with supernatural, irresistable determination. His walk was grim and mechanical. And then, in some sort of zone of fate and genius, he barely kicked the thing, but gently chipped it over the Ghanian keeper's shoulder.

Extraordinary stuff.

So with six teams to go we have only Europeans and South Americans - three apiece.

If anyone's gotten a bit over all the soccer games, I feel compelled to note tht there's only five to go, and these are the ones you simply must not miss. This is the good stuff.

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