On one of the coldest nights of the year so far, I went to the Ellis Park stadium in Johannesburg to watch the FIFA World Cup match between Brazil – one of the favourites – and North Korea – an almost completely unknown football entity. It was a great experience. (Note: I use the English term ‘football’ for what the US terms ‘soccer’).
First, the cold was terrible – it got to 2 degrees C by the end of the game and the wind made it feel worse. Even though I and many others were wrapped up, over the 90 or so minutes of the match we couldn’t stop the cold from getting in. Some foreigners were also unprepared for the cold weather – I spoke to a Russian TV journalist who said he had to go shopping that day for warm clothing.
But the game made up for it. The Brazilians’ spectacular brand of football was engaging to watch; the skill and flare they exhibit made me appreciate why they could be this year’s winner. The North Koreans didn’t have the same flare, but their defending was remarkable – when a Brazilian striker got close to the North Korean goal, two or three North Koreans defenders would almost smother the opposing player.
Despite the strong defense, the Brazilians were able to get in two goals. The first one was the most amazing feats of skill I have seen. Brazilian Maicon was one metre away from the North Korean by-line and 3-4 meters from the goal past, and seemed to have no option but to pass the ball back. Instead he kicked, making the ball curve so that it went outwards slightly then curved in to pass the North Korean goal-keeper and go into the goal.
The North Koreans got support from the crowd in the stadium because when Ji Yun Nam scored a goal in the final minutes of the game, the crowd’s appreciation was obvious.
The other interesting aspect of the game was that not a single yellow card was issued. None of the players committed any major fouls, and when they brought down an opposing player, were ready to help them up again.
Finally, before 11th July 2010, South Africa was the only country where the word ‘vuvuzela’ was known, but in less than two weeks it is now spoken about internationally. That’s Internet speed.