Friday, June 18, 2010

The Argentina game

After a failed attempt at scalping tickets for the South Africa vs Uruguay game that was right down the street, we moved on to our next attempt.

On Thursday morning, we drive down to Johannesburg to try to watch the Argentina vs. South Korea game at the new Soccer City stadium.

The hour-long trip takes longer because there is so much traffic. There is clearly an attempt being made by everyone to make the game experience smooth. However some things we may take for granted, stand out here.

For instance, signage. You can follow a sign to the stadium – but once off the exit ramp, and with the option of turning left or right, you may not see another stadium sign again, so you guess.

Or, as happened to us, when one traffic police person tells us to stop at an intersection, and another other across the way is waving us to drive. We’re stuck in the middle of a decision, watching the two argue.

We park in a casino parking lot and approach the police at the end of the road to ask for walking directions to the stadium. ALL of them tell us no: "it’s too far and too dangerous." We walk to the free shuttle buses about a block away and are on our way, arriving at the stadium 45 minutes from kickoff.

It’s really the first facility I’ve seen that has World Cup written all over it. It’s the size of any large stadium in the U.S., with huge parking lots and long sidewalks that lead up to it. It’s also far from anything, it appears, so the transport buses keep driving in unloading passengers.

After a few photos, two of us tickets at face value from a Canadian guy that is decked out in Argentina gear. Three of the guys find tickets, and then we get the final missing pair. With 30 minutes to go, we're all!

My seats were actually great, right at about midfield and high up. An awesome view of the field. We see the two huge flags the Korean unveil during their anthem. Amazing. One flag was at least 55 yards wide.

There are a ton of Argentines in the stadium, most attempting to start the popular songs and chants. It’s unfortunate that there are so many vuvuzelas that drown out any such attempt at a normal soccer chant. Still, at one point, the Argentines fight through and can be heard. The loud ones are mostly downstairs.

Halfway through the first half, one of our crew texts us to let us know there are plenty of seats around him. We join them at halftime, in the corner of the lower level, in the middle of a large group of Argentines.

There are many “No Smoking” signs in the stadium, but apparently that means nothing in this section. These Argentines don’t sit, and exact seat locations are also a meaningless thing – this makes it easy for us to jump in. We notice the Boca Jr. flag - hard not to notice since it's about 20 feet long.

Before I made it down there, some of the rowdier fans approached my buddies and asked them to pay some money. Really. After denying the 'request,' the Argentines in front of my friends turned and said, "You're lucky this is the World Cup, because if you say no to those hooligans in Argentina, there would be trouble." Incredible!

The second half is underway, and soon it starts...

“Vamos, vamos, Argentina. Vamos, Vamos, a ganar.” I’m jumping around pumping hands in the air, as are the other three.

“Se mueva para aca, se mueve para alla.” (And we move over here, and we move over there)…And we hop a few places to the right, then back to the left.

“Es un sentimiento, no puedo parar!” (It’s a feeling, I cannot contain)…singing non-stop as we waive anything in a circular motion high up.

As I jump around and watch the game, I have flashbacks to 1994, when my parents took brothers, sister, and me to Boston for the three Argentina World Cup games. The irony to look to my side and have three American buddies standing in their places, enjoying their first Argentina game as we I did back then.