Match Report: Netherlands v Cameroon

What a difference two weeks makes in the world of football! After all the euphoria of 11th June Bafana Bafana were brought down to earth with a bang at the hands of Uruguay. Having held the 17th ranked team in the world to a draw hopes were high pre-match that the host nation would do the same to Uruguay, ranked 16th.
 
Unfortunately the game went as per the FIFA rankings and Uruguay won comfortably; Diego Forlan had the same effect on South Africans that regrettably he has had on the red half of Merseyside. The bar emptied immediately after the final whistle and the disappointment was tangible. Reaction to the defeat in South Africa was fierce with neither the players nor the manager spared. National loyalty at least to the football team seems fairly loose here; given the nation’s prowess at both rugby and cricket it’s probably hard to take the football team’s lowly-standing in the ‘beautiful game’. And the World Cup has led to supporters outside the traditional supporter base getting on board with Bafana Bafana who perhaps lack an emotional tie to the team.

Expectations were fairly low against France although some hoped for a miracle and South Africa’s luminaries called on the nation to get behind the team. On my walk to work I noticed how few people were wearing their national colours in contrast to the sunny morning of the opening day. Unfortunately I had to watch this one in work with a 4pm local time kick-off. Bafana Bafana romped home playing a more offensive style of football than before and with the French already clearly in disarray having a man sent off didn’t help their cause. Training strikes, rumours of a match strike threat and Nicolas Anelka’s attack on the coach (whatever opinion one holds of Domenech) reflected very poorly on the French team; no tears will be shed for them in Ireland though and it was maybe just a case of bad karma. Even in work the atmosphere was electric although confusion reigned about the number of goals needed to see the hosts’ through. Ultimately the final whistle brought huge disappointment.
It was very tough for South Africa to go out at the first hurdle on goal difference and become the first hosts to do so. Most sensible observers (not too many of them on Supersorts though!) would have settled in advance for one win. One draw and one defeat although few would have predicted the win coming against the French. However, having had such anticipation in advance of the tournament the nation was visibly deflated at their early exit but the Bafana Bafana performance was creditable especially when compared to England’s performance in the ‘EASY group’. Having a local coach, playing a more attacking style which seems to suit the players and getting more players’ big-league exposure perhaps hold the key to a brighter future for South African football.
 
The next game up for me was Cameroon v Netherlands at Greenpoint Stadium on 24th June. We collected our tickets the day before the game at the FIFA Ticketing Centre in the CBD without any problems. It was a gloriously sunny afternoon and we would love to have ditched work for the neighbouring tapas bar but unfortunately we had to get back to work as we had yet to negotiate an early finish for the match.34037_10150234947425553_595205552_13232943_3807296_n
The game itself was a dead rubber but I was still excited at seeing La Oranje and their colourful fans in action. The Netherlands were the first international World Cup team I was really aware of as a young boy and players like Johnny Rep, Rob Rensenbrink, Ruud Krol and the van de Kerkhof twins were heroes of mine. I don’t know whether my memory has been blurred with the passing of time but the orange shirts seemed to regularly knock the tango ball into the net from distance in that summer in the late 70s.
My work colleague had arranged for us to latch onto a corporate hospitality affair with free pre-match drinks at a country club and a bus to/from the ground. The journey to the ground was very straight-forward with many roads only open to buses. Arriving at the ground I saw the remains of the old Greenpoint stadium that I had read about. Whilst the rest of the bus headed for their hospitality we headed back up the fan-walk where the real action was. All the bars & restaurants at Greenpoint were heaving with people spilling out onto the streets. With the Slovakia v Italy game still in progress we tried to get a view of the game. It ended with another shock in a World Cup of quite a few surprising results so far. We headed back up the fan-walk and passed Giovanni’s Deli where the mood was sombre. Once again the streets were filled with people of all nationalities but orange was the dominant colour as La Oranje were there in their droves to reclaim Kaapstad; in fact there was even more orange on show than in East Belfast on the ‘12th’. We bought a Dutch scarf from a market-stall and headed for another drink before heading to the ground. We got talking to a couple of US girls who predicted ‘Africa’ would win the World Cup and to be honest they have been the exception as most States-side supporters I’ve spoken to have been knowledgeable and enthusiastic.

We left for the stadium. Shouts of ‘Hup Holland!’ brought a warm greeting from the Dutch supporters. I bumped into a Mexican with a sombrero, thanked him for beating the French and grabbed the photo opportunity. We were sitting in different sides of the ground but made a plan to meet up if there was an empty seat beside either of us. I passed a few ‘Norn Iron’ lads with the obligatory Ulster flag on my way to my seat; we could learn a lot from the South Africans about creating an inclusive flag although a hybrid of the Ulster flag and the tricolour would be a tough task even for the most creative-mind.
My ‘category 1’ seat had an excellent view of the pitch and the sea of orange on the opposite side of the ground. The noise in the stadium from the vuvuzelas was intense; it has been well-described like the drone of a massive swarm of angry wasps. The local guy beside me had taken like many to wearing ear-plugs and to be honest it really isn’t necessary although I would hate to see them take off back home; they are an intrinsic part of this World Cup but I don’t feel they will travel well.

I moved to the other side of the ground to sit by my mate around twenty minutes in and although it was a lesser category seat it was much closer to the pitch; switching sides of the ground during a half is a strangely disorientating experience! The Dutch took the lead before half-time through Van Persie. During the break I spotted Sky Sports Chris Kamara who was just behind us in the ‘cheap-seats’ with his son and a mate. I had a quick word with him and to be fair he was an absolute gent.

Eto pulled one back from the spot around midway through the second half. My mate’s cousin and his girlfriend joined us sitting on the steps; unlike an English ground the stewards were very relaxed. I missed Huntelaar’s goal as I had nipped to the toilet before the final whistle; how many times has that happened down the years! At the final whistle we headed for our coach. I met a couple of Brazilian lads on the way back and tried to engage them in a conversation about Liverpool’s much-maligned Brazilian, Lucas; they
 didn’t even know who he was……..says it all really!

Next up for me is the ‘last 16’ game in Cape Town and I’m still hoping for Spain v Portugal.
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