Thursday (8 July) is another non soccer day, so a further chance for relaxation. We head to Camps Bay beach, one of my favourite places in the world and a beautiful spot. Although it’s midwinter, the boys have soon stripped down to their shorts and are feeling the water. At the best of times the ocean here is very cold, so there’ll be no swimming but it’s still a good morning on the beach. Then we head to Sea Point for no particular reason before meeting the cousins at the Waterfront. It’s just a nice, pleasant lazy day without all the hectic drama and excitement of soccer.
Friday the moms take the kids on a township tour while I catch up with some old friends. The tour is a great success though Benjy somehow gets lice (we find out later) from some close contact with some kids. There’s an obligatory soccer game as well as beer tasting and everyone apparently has a good time.
Saturday morning we’re up early for our flight to Johannesburg. Off to the World Cup Final !! Who’d have believed. As we collect our luggage in JHB, we spot the three most senior South African cricketers, Graeme Smith (captain), Jacques Kallis (leading all time SA runscorer) and Mark Boucher doing likewise. It’s the equivalent of running into Villa, Torres and Iniesta and Benjy gets autographs and some photos. Sadly our useless camera (or is it the useless photographer) botches up the photos.
We head for the Apartheid Museum at Gold Reef City. There are lots of supporters there and the usually expensive parking lot is free for the Final weekend. It’s a great museum, very sobering for a South African, and Benjy and I spend hours going through the excellent nelson Mandela exhibit. Eventually we run out of steam and have to leave. We go to Melrose Arch, a big shopping centre/public square where hours before kickoff there is already a great atmosphere before the 3rd place playoff game. But we’re getting cold and tired so we go back to our lodgings to watch. I’m not really into this game – I’ve always thought it should be scrapped – and I fall asleep in the second half.
Sunday July 11 dawns as a perfect, sunny warm Johannesburg winter day. Hard to believe this day is here. Five years ago I promised Benjy we would be here and we’ve been planning seriously since February 2009 when we first entered the ticket lottery. There have been many ups and downs along the way – tickets for the semi final were very hard to come by, although our darkest day was Spain’s shock defeat to Switzerland. That’s the day it seemed our World Cup was ruined, but Spain, our original favourites will play tonight.
We head to Rosebank Mall for breakfast and a way to pass some time. The place is packed with Spanish fans. They’ve sequestered the big Ocean Basket restaurant and are in boisterous mood. It’s a great scene, and I enjoy it with my son and dad. After a while it’s time to go to Soccer City. Once again, the organization is terrific with easy parking at Wits, shuttles and general friendliness all round. It’s still mid afternoon when we get to the stadium but the excitement and tension is already high. We walk around for a while before it’s time to go in. We have excellent seats – low down behind the goal, and as it will turn out it’s the goal where everything will happen – except the winner. Somewhere in the distance Shakira does the Waka Waka but the closing ceremony is very short and the food kiosks are poor. Luckily we’ve smuggled some biltong in with us.
The game is incredibly tense. Benjy’s cheering for Holland and me for Spain, and like quite a few games I’ve been to in the past while it’s not a great spectacle on tv, its nervewracking stuff in the ground.
As it gets closer and closer to the inevitable, horrible penalty shoot out, Iniesta wins it for Spain. There are six minutes left but I turn to Benjy and tell him that Spain have won the World Cup. I love this Spanish team but you have to feel for the amazing Dutch fans.
After the whistle, the Spanish side celebrates in front of us. Incredible the World Cup is over. It’s been an amazing adventure and we are so, so privileged to have been here. Mostly, it’s been (to me) about the joy and pride of my country, South Africa.