Back in Johannesburg, well almost. Thanks to Francois, who we met on the plane from Dubai to Jo’burg, we are staying in a guesthouse in Pretoria which is about 50km north of Johannesburg. Our next game is against Spain in Ellis Park in Johannesburg on 21 June, mid-winter’s day (or mid-summer depending on where you’re reading). And as it’s the solstice, we’re sensing a little magic in the air, and hoping that Honduras can produce a stunning victory and send the Spanish home early.
Tonight’s game is in Johannesburg, and not the nicest part of town either. When we left the Mbombela stadium in Nelspruit, we were waiting about two hours before we could get on a bus to the park and ride station. Tonight’s game is at 8:30pm, and the temperature will be around 5 degrees, so we don’t want to be hanging around in a bad part of town for two hours at midnight. So Francois (our personal travel tipster) has recommended a Portuguese restaurant near the stadium which serves good food, and provides secure parking just 10 minutes walk from the stadium.
We had heard about Johannesburg traffic being crazy, and it is. Kick-off is at 8:30pm, and leaving Sandton City at 5:30pm to drive the 10km to the stadium seems like we may not make it in time. Finally, we get on the main highway (M1) that cuts through Jozi, and we can relax a little. We are happy that we changed our rental car today to one that has a GPS. Travelling round the countryside with a map is fine, but don’t attempt Jo’burg without a GPS unless you wish to donate your car to charity, or your head to frustration.
A lot of the roads around the stadium are closed for the match, but luckily the detour leads us right to the restaurant, the Boa Pinga. We ring the bell so that the staff press the button to unlock the metal door so that we can enter. Once inside, the cook tells us she has forgotten the key for the secure carpark. We’re in a bit of a dilemma, but after consulting almost everyone in the bar restaurant, they advise us to park the car on the pavement at the restaurant door and pay the watchman 5 Rand to look after it. Because the restaurant is staying open until after the match, it will be ok. If not, consider the wheels on your car gone – a Johannesburg parking fee. I pay the watchman 10 Rand, and promise him 10 more after the game. Ninfa’s not so confident, and is impatient to get to the game, but I try to convince her that it’ll work out.
So we order some grilled chicken and some Mozambiquan beer to get in the mood. Meanwhile, we take it in turns to go to the toilet and add at least three layers of clothing. In India, I foolishly posted my fleece jumper home thinking that an African winter is bound to be like a European summer. By day, yes; by night – where’s my fleece?! There’s a cheap clothing chain-store in South Africa called PEP, and we each bought gloves and hats and for me long-johns! In high spirits, and warm clothes, we walk to the stadium through the hilly, bungalow streets lined with street vendors in the entirely black neighbourhoods surrounding Ellis Park. We share a bottle of South African sparkling wine on the way (South African wine is good quality and available at bargain prices), already celebrating what we are confident will be a resounding Honduran victory.
By the time we enter the stadium, it’s almost 7:30pm, and the atmosphere is bubbling, as are we. There are TV crews filming Spanish fans in matador costumes, and we wave our huge Honduras flag in front of them like a red rag to a raging bull (a quite jovial bull to be fair). It’s not long until we meet some old faces from the first game in Nelspruit, and we start partying and singing various songs like “Adios Espana!” (Bye-bye Spain), and “Matador d’Espana, Honduras!” (Spain-killers, Honduras!). Loads of the fans from both sides are gathering round and taking photos and joining in, and the atmosphere is electric.
About 15 minutes before kick-off, we take our seats. We’re on the centre-circle around 8 rows from the front – the view is amazing. As is the noise! At pitch-level, the vuvuzelas echo around the stadium and crash in a crescendo of noise on the pitch. It’s true, it’s impossible for players and managers to communicate. Just before the teams come out, and half-way through typing a text message, someone bumps against me on the steps and my phone falls out of my hand. I see it in a crowd of feet, and making my way towards it, someone accidentally kicks it, and now the teams come out, and nobody cares and I don’t even know if I do anymore. But it’s a frustrating side-show to the main act taking place on the pitch.
And this is it, Honduras’ moment at the World Cup. With nothing to lose, the players and fans bellow out the national anthem and the game kicks off at a frantic tempo. Twenty minutes in, and just in front of us, David Villa beats two players, turns inside another and nestles the ball in the top corner of Noel’s net. It’s a goal worthy of a World Cup final. Spain are in the ascendancy, but Honduras, courtesy of a few changes in personnel and notably the return of talismanic striker David Suazo, are giving as good as they get. In the second half, David Villa hits a shot from the edge of the area which takes a deflection and loops over Noel for goal number two. A few minutes later, and Spain have a penalty. David Villa, who is perhaps lucky to still be on the pitch after raising his arm to a Honduran defender in the first half, steps up to take the kick. It looks like he’s used all his luck, as the penalty flies wide, and it’s as if Honduras scored a goal.
Spain continue to play best, but Honduras are full of fight and are no pushover, but give Spain a good contest for the rest of the game. It’s a brilliant night, and it’s all clear that it’s not winning, but taking part that is most important. It’s a terrific achievement for Honduras to be at the World Cup, and such a wonderful moment to see them play a part in such an historic occasion. And for us to be there to watch it, is a feeling money can’t buy. The final whistle blows, and our only criticism of the Honduras team is that for the second game running, the team doesn’t come to applaud the fans. But they’ll come in the third game.
After the game, we search in vain for my phone, and walk back to Boa Pinga, where we have a few coffees before hitting the road back to Pretoria along the wide, deserted highways.
World Cup Lingo – Lesson 4
Shopshop – fine, good. Eg Question: “How is everything with you?” Answer: “Shopshop.”
Yaw – This word, commonly used by the Dublin rugby classes and the English royal family, is the Afrikaans word for “yes”
Robot – a traffic light. Eg, Person 1: “How do I get to Jozi?” Person 2: “When you see the second robot, turn right.” Person 1: “Have you been drinking?”
Ayoba – a greeting used for exciting or great occasions, such as World Cup 2010