SBI World Cup Diary (My First Two Weeks in South Africa)

SoccerCityJoBerg

Greetings from South Africa, where the 2010 World Cup is in full swing, and where I've spent the past two weeks following the action and adjusting to life in a new land.

The tournament itself has had its ups and downs, with stingy defending, shoddy refereeing and recently some goal-scoring outbursts.

You've ready about plenty of that stuff over the past two weeks. Now I'm going to tell you about my own experiences through the first two weeks.

It certainly hasn't been boring.


There were some adjustments to be made when I arrived here. The first being driving on the opposite side of the ride. If you had told me before this trip that I would do that, I would have laughed. Necessity has a way of forcing you to adjust, and that's what I did. It took a few days to get the hang of it, but after a while I was cruising around the roads and highways of the greater Johannesburg area with relative ease.

Now, driving isn't without its hazards. As you might have heard, crime is an issue in South Africa, and hijackings are so commonplace that there are actually hijacking warning signs on some roads. It has to be seen to be believed (not hojacking signs, you're on your own to avoid the hojacking):

HijackingHotSpotSign   

I haven't let these signs deter me. After all, I've grown up in some tough neighborhoods so I don't scare easy.

Even that upbringing didn't make it any fun when I wound up in the awful position of catching a flat tire on a ride home from a match one night. As if blowing a tire isn't bad enough, doing so on a desolate road in a hijack zone at night can make it downright nerve-wracking.

I kept my cool and did what my instincts told me to do. I kept on driving. Yep, I drove and drove and rattled off what had to be about 30 or more kilometers on a flat tire, and eventually the rim. I left a nice streak on the road near the home I've rented, and the streak remains as a reminder of that crazy night.

If you're wondering just how bad it was, here is a priceless picture of the rim (and what was left of the tire):

MySouthAfricaRim 

For those wondering, I was able to get the car replaced (and managed a free upgrade out of it as well). Long story short, if you come here, pay the extra for the insurance. As you can see, it's worth it.

It isn't all scary stories here. The mood has been festive and match days have been great, both in the stadiums and in the streets. South Africans are really enjoying the tournament, though there has certainly been a drop in enthusiasm after South Africa's loss to Uruguay.

The USA matchdays have been extra special, with the scene at the USA-England match an electric one. The Royal Bafokeng Stadium in Rustenberg was rocking on that night and the electricity I felt before that match was one I hadn't felt since 2002 and USA-South Korea, as well as USA-Mexico.

Here's a shot of the Rustenberg Stadium that night:

RustenbergStadium

I haven't taken a ton of pictures, but when there have been things to shoot, and things that look newsworthy, I've pulled the camera out. I will try to do that more as the trip goes on.

I was able to catch this newsworthy image from the Netherlands-Denmark match:

BavariaDressGirls 

In case you hadn't heard, these ladies in orange got into a bunch of trouble for what FIFA deemed to be "Ambush Marketing". As you can tell in this picture, security at Soccer City didn't seem too concerned with their outfits, which were later deemed illegal for advertising a beer company that wasn't an official World Cup sponsor (See, I had a feeling something was fishy about their outfits, which is why I took the picture. No, really.).

As for away from the stadiums, there is some beautiful countryside, though the practice of burning the tall grass that lines the highways rather than cutting it can give the whole place a Mad Max-like feel. At times I almost feel like I'm back at home in New Jersey between the American music on the radio, the tons of KFCs and McDonald's, and even the toll booths:

SouthAfricanToll 

As for the people, they are really nice and I've had no real problems since I've been here.

One of the most fun aspects of covering a World Cup (this is my third) is getting to meet and see reporters from all over the world. Whether it's catching up with writers I've made friends with long ago (like Oliver Kay to Guillem Ballague), to making new friends (like the Slovenian and Norwegian reporters I got to meet and befriend), and meeting writers I admire (such as Martin Samuel of the Daily Mail). There's a real brotherhood feel to covering an event like this. That's even more the case among the American media, where I'm getting to spend time with familiar faces like Yahoo's Martin Rogers, Reuters' Simon Evans, SI's Grant Wahl and Steve Davis and ESPN's Jeff Carlisle and Luke Cyphers, to name a few.

Here are some other random thoughts about the trip thus far:

There was a lot of talk about price gouging and how expensive things would be here. I've found most things to be downright cheap. Now renting a car or finding a place to stay will cost you a bunch during the World Cup, but for things like meals and souvenirs, the dollar still goes a long way. One thing to note though is that South Africans DO NOT take American money. They can't move it so they don't take it. This is the first country I can remember that doesn't take it, so keep that in mind if you plan on coming here. Be sure to take out South African money once you arrive.

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South Africans love their music, including old school R&B. It's impressive how much R&B I hear on the radio here. I've also been thoroughly impressed with the house music here. If you like house music, you might want to do some digging and check out some South African house. It's quality stuff.

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USA fans may hate the Mexican national team and Mexican fans, but the hatred doesn't really go both ways. I've met so many Mexico fans who say they are rooting for the United States as their second team. Many of them live in the United States, but even some Mexicans from Mexico go out of their way to root for the USA. Whether it's because more USA success makes the losses by Mexico to the USA more easy to explain, or whether it's respect, I've been impressed. I won't tell USA fans to return the favor because I know the emotions run deep, but it's something to think about.

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I get asked about what animals I've seen since being here and the truth is I haven't seen many out of the ordinary animals. I did have a pack of monkeys race across the road once as I was driving by, but I haven't seen any of the big boys (Lions, elephants, giraffes). I do plan on hitting a game reserve to see some of them, but that can wait for later in the tournament.

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Internet connectivity is a bit of a hit-or-miss proposition. I've got some wireless access, but you learn to adjust to slower connections (as well as some almost unbearable Skype calls).

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That's all for now. I will try to offer shorter diaries throughout my trip, but for now, this is a sampling of what things have been like for me during my first two weeks here. Stay tuned for more in the coming days and weeks.

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73 Responses to SBI World Cup Diary (My First Two Weeks in South Africa)

  1. mwc says:

    That $32.00 a day for insurance on the rental car seems like a better idea now than it did at the rental counter.

  2. pux90mex says:

    Great update Ives. Love hearing about your adventures. (I hate to be nitpicky but I think you meant Uruguay and not Mexico underneath the picture of the rim)

    Thanks again Ives!

  3. dan says:

    I still hate Mexico.

  4. Kevin_Amold says:

    I would hope that Mexico fans that live in the US would not hate the US and would respect us as their second team. Actually, I would REALLY hope that they’d adopt Mexico as their second team, and assume their positions in Sam’s army.

    You may say I’m a dreamer….but I’m not the only one.

  5. US Fan says:

    Thanks Ives!

    As for the Mexicans. I definitely root for them for one month every 4 years. Gotta support the CONCACAF brethren.

  6. ex_sweeper says:

    I’ll be rooting for Mexico as MY second team if the US doesn’t get out of the second round (except for Marquez who is and always will be a thug). Their resurrection under Aguirre has been amazing, and they have some great young players. Also, it does the US good in the long run to have a strong opponent.

  7. Jorge says:

    I have never understood that position. See, I was born in Honduras, grew up in El Salvador until the age of 16 and that’s when we moved to the US. To me, the USA team is my first choice but I do root for the two countries because of my relationship to them.

  8. Brian D says:

    Nothing like laying a whoopin’ on France to make my North American solidarity come out…

  9. john in FL says:

    “(See, I had a feeling something was fishy about their outfits, which is why I took the picture. No, really.).”

    THAT made me chuckle…we’re sure you had some feelings there..

    Enjoy the cup and love live the hatred towards Mexico…

  10. aristotle says:

    I wonder if Ives still has his hearing?

    How do you like the vuvuzelas Ives?

  11. John in FL says:

    I’ve adopted Portugla as my second Team and taken my place in Sam’s Army…even tough I was 14 when I arrived in the US.

  12. bq says:

    Great stuff Ives.

    It’s a funny thing about the Mexican team. As much as I dislike the cheap play they often exhibit on the field and how their fans treat opposing supporters, I still find myself getting behind the Mexicans because they are a fellow CONCACAF team. I’ve even gone to one Mexican watch party. In talking to my fellow US Supporters, I’m finding quite a few of them have also been following Mexico and they too have surprisingly found themselves supporting El Tri. Strange bedfellows for sure.

  13. montana matt says:

    I’m rooting for Mexico as my second team. While I root against them in CONCACAF, a good showing from El Tri at the World Cup only enhances the reputation of our region globally. A strong Mexican national team reflects well on the US national team, and Mexico also plays an exciting brand of football.

  14. Chris Whyte says:

    I really like the Mexican team at this World Cup (especially Dos Santos and Chicharito). As a diehard USA supporter, I have no problems rooting for Mexico in this World Cup — that is, until we meet in the quarterfinals :)

  15. patrick says:

    Mexico has been playing some great soccer in this tournament which makes it much easier to cheer for them. I’d like them to get through to the 16 along with the US, it only makes concacaf stronger and gains us more respect. Now, if they start pulling out the late tackles, dirty play, that all goes down the drain

  16. Dave says:

    But no, it does get better…when my French cubey neighbor handed me the $1.

  17. Jimmy Bobo says:

    Love the blog, Ives. However, I think you have been spending too much time with your friends from the Writer’s Guild. If you really want to know how the Mexican fans feel about “los norteamericanos” you should sit with the American fans when we go to Azteca. These people pretty much hate us. I’ve got the pictures to prove it.

    (SBI-No Jimmy, I’ve seen LOTS of Mexican fans go to USA games and root for USA, and I’ve talked to tons of Mexico fans and found a bunch who say they root for the USA. I’m sure there are yahoos at Azteca who hate all things USA, but to consider them the majority isn’t totally accurate.)

  18. Skoey says:

    I didn’t know this about us US fans and Mex. Yes they don’t shake our hand after the match unless they win. But hey man, anytime Mexico isn’t playing the US I’m for the Tricolor! Go Mexico!

  19. torporindy says:

    I always support Mexico outside of CONCACAF unless it conflicts with the US’ interests. They may be bastards, but their our bastards. If we both do well, then maybe, just maybe FIFA will give CONCACAF a little more respect.

  20. Bill W. says:

    I root for Mexico when they aren’t playing us.

  21. Aaron in StL says:

    I’d have to think if there were tens of millions of people of American descent in Mexico, there may be a feeling similar to that which you’ve seen with Mexico.

  22. andrew in tampa says:

    Good stuff Ives. I was at the Netherlands-Denmark game as well but not sure if i saw those women. It was amazing how Elia electrifiied the crowd – every time he touched the ball the crowd stood to its feet.
    South Africa has been a revelation. For the most part people, black and white, are really optimistic about this country. I am staying in the burbs but have been to Soweto quite a few times and I havent felt unsafe once. Have you tried Bunny Chow?
    on the fans, the Mexican, Brazilians and Argies have been the most visible around Joburg. Went to Rose Bank Mall today and the Brazilians had their drums and guitars working.

  23. Kevin_Amold says:

    Good on both of you two. Sam’s army is stronger because of you.

  24. John from Philadelphia says:

    It really boils down to the no handshake. More than anything I want to support El Tri as my 2nd team for all the reasons stated above, number one being that they are gifted technicians with the ball at their feet and it is great to watch. But the no handshake is a slap in the face. Its disrespect to the game. The handshake should be mandatory in my view.

  25. Lee says:

    Ives, anything further about a US player to Arsenal? You and Arsene go out for some Vino later on?

    (SBI-All I said was that I’d bet on Arsenal signing a USMNT player. Didn’t say it was definitely happening, or that I’ve heard that it’s happening, but with Arsenal planning to spend this summer, and with there being at least three Americans who could help Arsenal (Donovan, Bradley, Howard), I think it’s a safe flier to throw out there.)

  26. Jose says:

    Nice update Ives! I was in mexico a few years back and some of the mexicans I met there would say that the US soccer has picked up and the team is good. Some even said that the US team was better than Mexico. Remember a few years ago when US played Panama in the Gold Cup finals, there were tons of Mexican fans hoping that Mexico made it but it didn’t. Most of those fans were cheering for US instead of Panama. I will still root for the US, not offense to Mexico. But USA is my team and country. Funny comment about the Beer ambush ad.

  27. westcoaster says:

    Having spent the first week of the World Cup in Mexico City, and getting to watch the South Africa and France games in the Zocalo with tens of thousands of Mexican supporters, I can say that they have been really friendly to Americans and American supporters. Many told me they predict us to win Group C. However, when watching the US-Slovenia game on the giant screen in the Zocalo, there was definitely a strong majority rooting for Slovenia.

    Maybe its because most of the Mexicans at the WC live in the US, or maybe it was because Slovenia is an underdog, but it seems Mexicans in Mexico are much less likely to pull for the US.

  28. bryan says:

    i know i’m rooting for CONCACAF teams… including mexico.

  29. uncle Sam says:

    I hate Mexico too.. Onece they start paying taxes in this country we can discuss takin them off the hate list.

  30. john.q says:

    stay safe!

  31. Kevin in Denver says:

    Ask the Mexicans if they love the USMNT when they’re throwing urine bombs at Landon Donovan and USMNT supporters.

  32. Still Mad at Coulibaly says:

    Like others, I definitely root for Mexico at the World Cup. Although I want nothing more than to trounce them when we play each other, I want CONCACAF to represent.

  33. HoboMike says:

    Sorry, the behavior of their fans makes it impossible for me to root for them. Remember the “Osama” chant?

    I do.

  34. HoboMike says:

    And rooting for them just because they’re a CONCACAF team makes no real sense to me. I’m a New Yorker – there’s no way in hell I’d root for the Red Sox just because they’re an AL East team, or the Cowboys just because they’re an NFC East team.

  35. HoboMike says:

    +1000.

  36. Dasalsakid says:

    all Latinos support Latino American countries.

    they even have my favortie commercial of all the copa on Univision that gives me goosebumps. it shows one person from a different Latin American team that made the World Cup – Mexico, Uruguay, Chile, Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, Honduras… and they say a brief cheer for their own countries, then at the end of the commercial it says, “en el futbol estamos unidos… arriba los estados unidos!” and it shows the aforementioned fans rep. their diff countries all cheering on USA! then it zooms in on screen showing USA players doing the stanky leg and says:

    “arriba los Estados Unidos!!!!”

    GO USAAAA!!!

  37. brad says:

    Hobo Mike,

    You should get a website. Soccerbyhobomike.com I visit it every day..

    I totally agree with you

  38. Hawaiinate says:

    As a Wisconsin Badger fan, I root for the Big Ten in bowl games. I also root for our regions high school teams when they advance past my hometown’s team. With that said, I enjoy rooting for Mexico (except when they play U.S. or Argentina), they’ve been playing attractive soccer and the Mexicans I have met have generally been friendly.

  39. jpc says:

    I root for Mexico unless they are playing the US, I thought most US fans did too. but maybe i’m wrong

  40. Keith says:

    I’ve never been to a US- Mexico game, but know about the bad blood over the years. But I think the rivalry is gradually changing from one of hatred to one of mutual respect. Sure, there will always be a few obnoxious fans, but that goes for both sides. Mexico seems to be accepting the fact that the U.S. has established its global soccer credentials. At the same time, there are more young Mexican players on teams outside Mexico, which gives them a stronger appreciation of the respect international players have for each other. While the intense rivalry will always be there, I hope the foul play exhibited in the US – Mexico Round of 16 match in 2002 will be a thing of the past.

  41. Javier says:

    I root for Mexico in World Cups and Copa Americas, but just for them to do well. Never to win, and the reasons are selfish.

    Simply put, it helps CONCACAF build, or at least maintain, some level of credibility and respect. It also (should) help our ranking, if we’re beating teams in our region that are rated highly by FIFA.

  42. FulhamPete says:

    I’m with you there. But mainly because of my Cancun vacation starting tomorrow, I’m afraid to NOT be a Mexico fan…at least while they’re playing.

    I WILL be sporting my Dempsey 8 Wednesday at the sports bar.

    Go USA! ¡Viva Mexico! Until the qtrs.

  43. FulhamPete says:

    +1

  44. torporindy says:

    (they’re) sorry, I am anal about that.

  45. HoboMike says:

    You mean the Big 16?

  46. ian says:

    I want the Mexican team to do well, and Honduras for that matter. If we’re playing them, I pretty well hate them but it’s good for CONCACAF in general if they do well and our region could use the respect if nothing else.

  47. sread says:

    “They may be bastards, but their our bastards.”

    That pretty much sums it all up for us USA fans.

  48. BlueWhiteLion says:

    i guess you just screwed yourself, then . . .

  49. sread says:

    love it

  50. BlueWhiteLion says:

    i’m kind of with you in that. I support El Tri just about every time they play someone other than the US, but they are making it harder and harder–from the dirty plays to the cocky and excuse-laden sore loser responses, to the lack of a handshake, to the fans with their bags of urine and getting all in a huff about Donovan’s urine . . . but I root for them nonetheless. I just wish they’d all grow up.

    But I put USA and Germany (my second home) ahead of them all.

  51. Bumble Biddle Bobble says:

    Dont be a jingoistic xenophobic jerk. At least for one month every 4 years try to act like you live in a global village that loves the beautiful game.

  52. Second City says:

    “I’ve met so many Mexico fans who say they are rooting for the United States as their second team. Many of them live in the United States -IVES”

    …and therein lies one of the endless reasons my rivalry goes too deep to allow even an inch of positive emotion towards Mexico in any competition.

    Many have made points about representing/supporting a fellow CONCACAF nation and while I’ll respect your justification, I’ll also admit I lack even a single ounce equipped or able to cheer for a bitter, bitter rival under any circumstance, especially in this realm.

    I’ll respect certain Mexican supporters that choose to cheer for USA as their 2nd team but I imagine I’d do the same when you actually live within that given country.

    I just ask you respect the many USA supporters that have equally legitimate reasons to choose the opposite, in this sporting realm.

    Don’t make it political, it’s purely a sporting hatred and that’s perfectly healthy given the circumstances.

  53. Eric120 says:

    Mexican fans hate the US when it’s Mexico playing the US. In my experience, when it’s the US playing another team, Mexicans don’t automatically root for the other team. It doesn’t surprise me at all that Mexicans attending the WC would be rooting for the US, a fellow CONCACAF member, as their second team.

  54. Hincha Tim says:

    I’m with you. As long as they’re not playing the U.S. I’m rooting for Mexico when they play outside of Concacef and I’m a gringo American.

  55. Mike Caramba says:

    I can’t speak for any other American fans, but I’ve always pulled for Mexico when they’re not playing the US. I figure any time they succeed, it’s good for CONCACAF, so it’s good for us. Good to hear many of them feel the same way.

  56. Jose Romero says:

    Great, great stuff Ives.
    1. Mexico
    2. USA

    Here’s why, para todos que quieren saber…

    link to gather.com

  57. brentmcd says:

    lame. and no, after reading your little article, i still don’t understand. it’s not too late to see the error of your ways, repent, and join sam’s army. you would be welcomed with open arms.

  58. Daniel says:

    While I respect everyone’s opinion, I can’t understand why is it so hard to believe that Mexicans keep cheering for Mexico after they’ve come here. How long after moving to another country do you start rooting for that nation? How long after an American moves to England is he/she suppose to change teams?

  59. brad says:

    Once you become a citizen..and thats the issue.

    There are millions of Mexicans illegally living in the States. So they root for Mexico (where they send most of their income) and root for their country.

  60. Westonia says:

    More Like the Big $

    I’m a wisco fan too–go there now, and I would root for the Big 10 in bowl games if their style of play was less boring. Which is why I’ve been supporting Mexico this WC–Gio Dos Santos and Chicharito are too fun to root against.

  61. Daniel says:

    What about non-citizents legal residents?

  62. phil says:

    not to sound like a cracker, but the Mexico fans rooting for USA in SA are prolly are actually living in the US instead of Mexico. But hey it’s all good. most people are good sports, but A-holes always get the attention.

  63. phil says:

    maybe, but we’d speak spanish.

  64. phil says:

    Perhaps I’m being overly sentimental, but I just can’t see Howard leaving Everton. I also have a hard time seeing Arsenal paying MLS enough to release LD… and does Bradley really have what Wenger wants? it would be awesome, but I can’t see him fitting in with Nasrei and Eduardo’s style.

    He’d be better off going after Gooch as a pair to Vermaalen… or keep up his streak for the young-uns and give Holden or Torres trial.

  65. phil says:

    oh my god are we really doing this?

  66. Omar says:

    Great stuff Ives keep it coming. You’re living the dream. What was Wenger like?

  67. John says:

    Being a Gopher fan, I generally agree with the Big Ten statement. The part where I draw the line is Iowa, they are so arrogant for no reason. Badger/Gopher games are a lot of fun and the fans are lot friendlier to each other.

  68. r.benjamin says:

    I went from not liking Mexico to hating them in the rd of 16 game in 2002.

    There were some out right dirty plays by Mexico in that game and a real feeling of disgust. It perpetuated a few times in the next few years.

    However, I do sorta like the new crop.. examples being chincherito (sp?) and dos santos so I’m a little torn and find myself rooting for those guys against the big euro teams.

  69. Steve B says:

    I’m actually quite SHOCKED that so many USA fans root for Mexico on the side. I think the intense rivalry is what makes our relationship so interesting and attractive. It draws the attention of the rest of the world. It is a combo of mutual respect and bad blood, and I don’t think that will/should change. I enjoy watching Mexico BECAUSE I always root against them. (Even if its france, or italy)

  70. DEAC says:

    I only dislike Mexico when they are in competition with the U.S. There’s no team I enjoy beating more, of course, but I don’t see how any American soccer fan could dislike this Mexico team. They play a lovely brand of soccer, do not disrespect the game in the way that, say, Spain’s Sergio makes routine, and Blanco even came to MLS.
    Rooted for Mexico in 06 when they played ARG, and I’d do it again.

  71. SwerveZ says:

    +1

  72. nova00 says:

    Well said, just think how many red sox fans stay loyal after moving to say NYC…!

  73. I’d have to think if there were tens of millions of people of American descent in Mexico, there may be a feeling similar to that which you’ve seen with Mexico.