A) Thumbs down. Not cool at all.
A1) The FIFA refusing to use technology to review specific plays. Not to join the bandwagon of voices killing the game’s governing body because of it, but the explanation they gave months ago when reviewed the issue (‘The game should be played under the same conditions everywhere, and most football pitches in the world won’t have access to that technology’) was flawed then and is still flawed now. If you want to play the game under equal conditions everywhere, every stadium should have grass as good as the English stadia, or dressing rooms as shiny and well-equipped as the Bernabeu’s, and so on. We all know that’s not the case. There’s too much at stake in the World Cup to send a country back home because a linesman’s human eye didn’t catch a blatant offside or didn’t see the ball a good half a metre inside the line. Enough of this.
A2) Not being able to hear the fans’ chants. You already know my opinion about the noise in the stadia during this World Cup. Last night I watched Argentina and Mexico at Soccer City. It was painful not being able to listen to the overwhelmingly present Argentine Barras singing their usual tunes, or to the Mexicans performing ‘Cielito Lindo’ (another classic). Let the record show that the only country that managed to get some chants going were the now eliminated Englishmen, who were nothing short of spectacular in their country’s match against Slovenia.
A3) Access to stadia. A good Mexican friend of mine took his eight-year-old kid, Lucas, to Soccer City last night. I had warned him about the logistics, so he was able to get in and out in Usain Bolt time, which for Soccer City means 70 minutes to arrive and 105 minutes to get back to his hotel in Sandton. After 30 minutes waiting for the bus, at night, freezing, breathing dust and standing in a seemingly eternal line, you can imagine the state of poor Lucas. Not surprisingly, he does not want to watch more matches live. Not good indeed.
A4) My left-hand side driving. After a full week, I’ve improved drastically, but I still can’t believe they simply leave someone who comes from a right-handed driving country use a car in a left-handed one (and the other way around) without a single test. Terrifying. Let me share some related stats with you:
A4a) Number of times I’ve gone to the left side of the car believing the wheel was there: 7 (really pisses me off)
A4b) Number of times I’ve turned on the windshield cleaner believing it was the indicator lights: 12 (makes me feel the urge to punch myself)
A4c) Number of times I’ve done something horrendously wrong at a crossroads: 6
A4d) Number of times I’ve been caught doing something horrendously wrong at a crossroads: 2 (by other drivers) / 0 (by the police ;-)). The first time, another driver in a 1995 Golf Chico gave me the finger, and deservedly so. The second time, both driver and co-pilot of a brand new BMW started to laugh their respective bottoms off. The latter was the most humiliating by far. But the lesson is clear: you take life in a lighter way when you drive a nice car.
A5) Scalpers. What a cancer. They’re everywhere, and no matter what FIFA do, they can’t get rid of them. But then you have the upside. It’s great to deal tickets with people who enjoy football and aren’t there to make a profit. When I went to watch Brazil vs Ivory Coast, I needed another ticket for a friend. I worked out a three-way deal at face value, in which I sold my own ticket to a woman from Zimbabwe, and then used the proceedings plus some cash to buy two tickets from Geoff, a chap from Northern Ireland who couldn’t convince his two sons to come along with him. Everyone ended up happy in a perfect market operation. Only in the World Cup.
A6) Spanish football journalists. England – Germany being played, and only two or three out of a fifty men contingent showed interest in the match. Are you kidding me? What are you here for? It makes you think, though. Maybe it loses its charm once you’ve been around enough World Cups, Champions League finals, etc.
B) One thumb up. Ok, I guess. Jury still out.
B1) Jabulani. I am starting to believe that the ball isn’t really that bad, and that when players get used to it, we will see some amazing stuff on the pitch. For instance, Tevez’s cracker last night, or the two Mexican shots from outside the penalty box. Goalies will keep suffering, but that’s what they chose to play on the goal for, right?
B2) Refereeing. They were awful yesterday, but let’s not forget how amazingly consistent they had been during the group phase. Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt for now.
B3) My hotel room in Joburg. The lift of this hotel has three levels: L, 4 and 5 (yes, you read that correctly). My room is in floor number 5 (which, being literal, is not the fifth floor, but the third), and its number is 1549. Is there a new numbering convention for hotel rooms and no one has told me yet?
C) Two thumbs up. Good stuff.
C1) Chocolate bars. If you’re into chocolate, forget about Switzerland. This is the land of chocolate bars. Think of any combination of white, blank and milk chocolate, with any kind of nuts. They have it here. South Africa’s gas stations are just an excuse to sell chocolate bars. I am on a mission to try them all, but I don’t think 15 days is enough. My objective is to surpass Sheed Capdevila’s belly, so that I can’t say that I am fitter than the starter left back of my national team anymore, but I am not sure I’ll be able to get there. It’s quite a challenge.
C2) Ice with your white wine. I’d never seen this before, but South Africans drink their white wine not only chilly, but ‘on the rocks’. Being a Spaniard, and therefore a purist in what regards to wine, I immediately decided against it, until my friend Luis, another Spaniard, pointed out that, for the sake of consistency, we should immediately have to stop adding ice to whisky, gin, vodka, etc. Needless to say, we started to drink our white wine with ice, and it’s quite good. We end up drinking faster, as we don’t want the ice to melt, so every white wine meal usually means deep conversations, fantastic ideas and the urging need of a nap right after it. Good times!
C3) Ice cream below zero. This country is the dream for ice cream makers. Around the globe, they struggle to keep their sales at a 50% of their standard during the winter months. Here, they sell ice cream like crazy in the stadiums (average temperature of 5 Celsius). Like I did with the wine, I did what Romans do, and have no regrets. I even convinced myself that eating ice cream helps me to stay warm.
D) Three thumbs up. Very cool stuff.
D1) Local food. Simply fantastic. It does not matter whether you’re a meat person (too many different kinds to try) or a fish person (excellent quality and preparation). Foodwise, top level. And the wine also helps, obviously.
D2) The last sixteen round so far. Well, people were complaining about the quality of most matches during the group stage. What do they think now? They had forgotten that while there’s much at stake, in the first two matches of the group phase there’s still time to react, and therefore matches are not as intense. From the third match onwards, it becomes much more interesting. We’re in for a few thrillers from now on.
D3) The lion’s zoo. Don’t ask me how, but I ended up visiting the lion’s zoo, which would have hardly been in my top 10 priority list of things to do in Johannesburg. Ok, let’s just say I got acquainted with someone belonging to the gentler sex who was really interested in going there. Yes, I had no guts to say ‘no’. In any case, a very pleasant surprise. I got to see the White Lion, among other amazing stuff. Highly recommended, and apparently even better with kids.
D4) The sight of the moon while driving through the countryside. Jaw-breaking stuff. It looks orange, and makes you want to say ‘I had a farm in Africa’ (guess a reference to a 1985 movie didn’t work that well here, but it was the right thing to do)
E) Four thumbs up. These things should be remembered when I think of this World Cup in the future.
E1) Locals. Can’t be nicer. They just can’t. Even if they tried. Always willing to help, smiling and / or with a joke ready, and although most of them seem to believe I am from Argentina, they’re so incredibly gentle that I can’t get mad at them.
E2) Pre-match introductions at the stadia. If you arrive in the stadium at least half an hour before kick off, the fun is guaranteed. The huge screens start showing a great selection of famous World Cup moments, which always gets the crowd going. Then it’s time for some background about each team: qualification for the World Cup, memorable matches, stunning goals. After that, the starting elevens: starting with the theoretical visiting team, every starter appears on the screens, walks towards the camera, crosses his arms in defying attitude and smiles. Spain’s is really cool until they get to Del Bosque, awkward as anyone could possibly get when being filmed. In any case, spectacular way to get fired up for the match. Then the anthems, and time to play. Very well done.
E3) Jozi nightlife. Top, top level. Being a bit of a night man myself, I have gone around quite often in Johannesburg, and the possibilities are endless. No matter whether you like jazz, techno, upscale, alternative, R&B… All right there to be enjoyed. Plus, for some reason, driving gets easier at night…