Trip Start Dec 15, 2009
Trip End Aug 27, 2010

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Flag of South Africa  , Western Cape,
Thursday, June 24, 2010

With all teams having completed two games in the group phase things start to get really interesting as everybody enters the third and final group matches. Many groups are still so tight that for many teams, the final group games are essentially the first knock-out games i.e. win or go home…. The first group to play its final matches was group A with South Africa needing to beat France and hope that Mexico lose to Uruguay if the hosts are to play any further part in the competition.

After a little walking and shopping (including a "Cape Malay" lunch in the colourful Bo-Kaap area) we made our way into the city centre and were soon drawn to the large crowds gathering where ever a TV was to be found. Naturally, the crowd was rather one-sided and even the visitors seemed to be behind the Bafana Bafana. When South Africa scored the opening goal, the crowds went mad, shouting, screaming, singing dancing and of course, blowing vuvuzelas! The singing and dancing continued for the rest of the game and was most entertaining – we've really noticed just how musically talented many Africans are and how they love to sing happily no matter what they happen doing :-) The jubilation peaked fever pitch when France had a man sent off and there was a feeling in the air that maybe, just maybe, the Bafana Bafana could pull it off and make it out of their group especially once the score reached 2-0 and Uruguay were also leading Mexico 1-0. Unfortunately, France pulled a goal back and since neither Uruguay nor South Africa could add to their tally, poor South Africa were eliminated from the world cup on goal difference. Still, on the plus side they managed to beat France and relegate the French to the bottom of the group and onto the next plane home; Derek and most of Ireland were particularly happy with this result feeling that it was just rewards for a team that cheated its way into the tournament at the expense of Ireland’s chances. Despite the early exit the Bafana Bafana should hold their heads high; a win, a tie and a loss was better than was expected of them and had their keeper not been wrongly dismissed in game 2, things may have been very different for them.

Although we don’t have any more games to attend here in South Africa the world cup is still very much dictating our schedule, so we were out bright and early to catch the first city sightseeing bus of the day. The buses are open-topped, red double-decker types that tour around the city; once you have a ticket for the day you can hop-on and hop-off as often as you like and plug headphones into the running commentary in any one of 14 different languages. The first time we “hopped-off” was at the Table Mountain Cable Car station.

It was a surprisingly short queue for the ticket and we were soon onboard one of the round cable cars making its way to the top of table mountain while the car floor slowly revolved through a full 360 degrees. Concern had built as we lined up for the cable car… no, not due to Derek’s fear of heights, but through the awareness that everybody else seemed to be dressed for winter (toques and mitts for many) while we were more appropriately dressed for a Canadian summer…. To our great relief, it was relatively warm in the sunshine other than the occasional brusque wind. It was a beautifully clear day and the panoramic views from this incomparable vantage point are quite spectacular. The walk around the top didn’t take too long, but the views from all angles were amazing and well worth the visit.

Back on the bus, we completed the circuit and then a little further in order to make our way back to the city centre in time for the England game. Bearing Derek’s heritage in mind, we were attracted to an Irish pub to watch the game, and having been assured that they’d be showing the England game on the big screen we placed our orders and settled in to watch the game. I’m sure you can imagine the dismay when shortly after our food arrived they changed all four screens to show the USA game complete with the USA commentary. Despite our wrath, they refused to change it back (something to do with the number of Americans in the bar) and so after gulping down the food and drinks we left rather hurriedly to find somewhere that was actually showing the England game. Well, for those of you who didn’t watch the game, England scored quite early on but it was a little nerve racking as the minutes ticked by with Slovenia just needing one goal to knock England out. Fortunately, the English defense looked pretty solid and they won 1-0 to progress to the round of 16. Unfortunately, this means they will meet their classic foes in the shape of Germany. In the hope that my luck of written wishes is still running strong, I’ll put it in here that we’re hoping for a great victory for England on Sunday, and preferably one that doesn’t require penalties please!

Good soccer fans that we are, we had hoped to pick up lots of cool merchandise here in SA for ourselves and various friends and family members. However, the merchandising has been one of the few disappointments of the tournament for us since there has been remarkably little on offer that was as good as we’d been hoping for. Other than the official FIFA offerings there was little of half decent quality to choose from, quite atypical of events like this. The FIFA gear itself has been variable in terms of quality and originality and (not surprisingly) is vastly over-priced… but more surprising was the pricing variability from store to store, despite being official FIFA branded merchandise. Difficult to understand with FIFA’s great reputation for integrity ;-)

Our time in South Africa is over and we’re all a little sad to be leaving (even Lauren who really doesn’t care for football). Odds are high that we will return here to explore more of this stunningly beautiful and intriguing country with its tremendously friendly people. Despite all the concerns in the media , we have not had any safety concerns and have been pleasantly surprised by our South African experience… probably enhanced by the lack of other tourists!

The next few days will be a little crazy as our schedule contains three flights, three countries and probably not a lot of sleep…..
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