The opening match of a World Cup is the most anticipated of the tournament after the final itself. It opens the door to 30 days of action as the world sets its sights on one stadium for 90 minutes, hoping for an entertaining opening match and a positive start for the tournament as a whole. South Africa has been building up to this moment for six years and it finally arrived on a clear winter day in Johannesburg. And the celebration was something to behold.
Friday morning we were up early and at Soccer City by 9:30 am for the 4 pm kick-off of the opening match of the 2010 World Cup between South Africa and Mexico. We needed to get there early. The Soccer City compound, with its International Broadcast Centre, Media Centre, Accreditation Centre and so on is like a massive labyrinth. Collecting our ticket wasn’t as tough as expected and we soon met up with other Canadian freelance journalists who were attending the opening match.
There were probably around 1,500-2,000 members of the international media at Soccer City and some were cool and laid-back while others seemed totally on edge. We fell somewhere in the middle.
We were supposed to live-blog the opening match for the National Post, but when we found our seats they happened to be near the media tribune not in it and amongst a mass of Mexican fans. The location of the seats wasn’t bad but the lack of power and Internet was an issue. A Canadian colleague and I chased down a media officer who said we wouldn’t get a spot in the actual media tribune because we were Canadian media and therefore “low to no-priority.”
I sent a note to my editors in Toronto that the live-blog likely wasn’t going to happen and settled into my seat with my notepad. I managed a few e-mails to the editors before my battery died using some wireless connection and at half-time I walked through the media tribune, found an empty spot and made it mine for the second half.
Fans had been asked to arrive at Soccer City two to three hours before kick-off and they dutifully came early, which gave the stadium a great atmosphere during the opening ceremony, team warm-ups and leading up to the kick-off.
The match itself was thankfully an entertaining spectacle. Mexico were the better side in the first half with a number of opportunities to opening the scoring that either missed narrowly or were dealt with by South Africa’s goalkeeper Khune. When the second half started I thought Mexico were looking ready to score and did not see South Africa opening the scoring.
Tshabalala’s goal was a thing of beauty. A lightening fast break ended with an utterly spectacular finish. When that ball hit the top corner of the Mexican goal I jumped up with the rest of the stadium and exchanged a look of disbelief with the journo sitting next to me. Tshabalala entered his wonderful name into the soccer history books with that strike.
There’s only one Tshabalala… There’s only one Tshabalala…
All photos from Dundas Football Club’s Flickr page.