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SBI World Cup Diary (My First Two Weeks in South Africa)


Greetings from South Africa, where the 2010 World Cup is in full swing, and where I've spent the past two weeks following the action and adjusting to life in a new land.

The tournament itself has had its ups and downs, with stingy defending, shoddy refereeing and recently some goal-scoring outbursts.

You've ready about plenty of that stuff over the past two weeks. Now I'm going to tell you about my own experiences through the first two weeks.

It certainly hasn't been boring.

There were some adjustments to be made when I arrived here. The first being driving on the opposite side of the ride. If you had told me before this trip that I would do that, I would have laughed. Necessity has a way of forcing you to adjust, and that's what I did. It took a few days to get the hang of it, but after a while I was cruising around the roads and highways of the greater Johannesburg area with relative ease.

Now, driving isn't without its hazards. As you might have heard, crime is an issue in South Africa, and hijackings are so commonplace that there are actually hijacking warning signs on some roads. It has to be seen to be believed (not hojacking signs, you're on your own to avoid the hojacking):


I haven't let these signs deter me. After all, I've grown up in some tough neighborhoods so I don't scare easy.

Even that upbringing didn't make it any fun when I wound up in the awful position of catching a flat tire on a ride home from a match one night. As if blowing a tire isn't bad enough, doing so on a desolate road in a hijack zone at night can make it downright nerve-wracking.

I kept my cool and did what my instincts told me to do. I kept on driving. Yep, I drove and drove and rattled off what had to be about 30 or more kilometers on a flat tire, and eventually the rim. I left a nice streak on the road near the home I've rented, and the streak remains as a reminder of that crazy night.

If you're wondering just how bad it was, here is a priceless picture of the rim (and what was left of the tire):


For those wondering, I was able to get the car replaced (and managed a free upgrade out of it as well). Long story short, if you come here, pay the extra for the insurance. As you can see, it's worth it.

It isn't all scary stories here. The mood has been festive and match days have been great, both in the stadiums and in the streets. South Africans are really enjoying the tournament, though there has certainly been a drop in enthusiasm after South Africa's loss to Uruguay.

The USA matchdays have been extra special, with the scene at the USA-England match an electric one. The Royal Bafokeng Stadium in Rustenberg was rocking on that night and the electricity I felt before that match was one I hadn't felt since 2002 and USA-South Korea, as well as USA-Mexico.

Here's a shot of the Rustenberg Stadium that night:


I haven't taken a ton of pictures, but when there have been things to shoot, and things that look newsworthy, I've pulled the camera out. I will try to do that more as the trip goes on.

I was able to catch this newsworthy image from the Netherlands-Denmark match:


In case you hadn't heard, these ladies in orange got into a bunch of trouble for what FIFA deemed to be "Ambush Marketing". As you can tell in this picture, security at Soccer City didn't seem too concerned with their outfits, which were later deemed illegal for advertising a beer company that wasn't an official World Cup sponsor (See, I had a feeling something was fishy about their outfits, which is why I took the picture. No, really.).

As for away from the stadiums, there is some beautiful countryside, though the practice of burning the tall grass that lines the highways rather than cutting it can give the whole place a Mad Max-like feel. At times I almost feel like I'm back at home in New Jersey between the American music on the radio, the tons of KFCs and McDonald's, and even the toll booths:


As for the people, they are really nice and I've had no real problems since I've been here.

One of the most fun aspects of covering a World Cup (this is my third) is getting to meet and see reporters from all over the world. Whether it's catching up with writers I've made friends with long ago (like Oliver Kay to Guillem Ballague), to making new friends (like the Slovenian and Norwegian reporters I got to meet and befriend), and meeting writers I admire (such as Martin Samuel of the Daily Mail). There's a real brotherhood feel to covering an event like this. That's even more the case among the American media, where I'm getting to spend time with familiar faces like Yahoo's Martin Rogers, Reuters' Simon Evans, SI's Grant Wahl and Steve Davis and ESPN's Jeff Carlisle and Luke Cyphers, to name a few.

Here are some other random thoughts about the trip thus far:

There was a lot of talk about price gouging and how expensive things would be here. I've found most things to be downright cheap. Now renting a car or finding a place to stay will cost you a bunch during the World Cup, but for things like meals and souvenirs, the dollar still goes a long way. One thing to note though is that South Africans DO NOT take American money. They can't move it so they don't take it. This is the first country I can remember that doesn't take it, so keep that in mind if you plan on coming here. Be sure to take out South African money once you arrive.


South Africans love their music, including old school R&B. It's impress
ive how much R&B I hear on the radio here. I've also been thoroughly impressed with the house music here. If you like house music, you might want to do some digging and check out some South African house. It's quality stuff.


USA fans may hate the Mexican national team and Mexican fans, but the hatred doesn't really go both ways. I've met so many Mexico fans who say they are rooting for the United States as their second team. Many of them live in the United States, but even some Mexicans from Mexico go out of their way to root for the USA. Whether it's because more USA success makes the losses by Mexico to the USA more easy to explain, or whether it's respect, I've been impressed. I won't tell USA fans to return the favor because I know the emotions run deep, but it's something to think about.


I get asked about what animals I've seen since being here and the truth is I haven't seen many out of the ordinary animals. I did have a pack of monkeys race across the road once as I was driving by, but I haven't seen any of the big boys (Lions, elephants, giraffes). I do plan on hitting a game reserve to see some of them, but that can wait for later in the tournament.


Internet connectivity is a bit of a hit-or-miss proposition. I've got some wireless access, but you learn to adjust to slower connections (as well as some almost unbearable Skype calls).


That's all for now. I will try to offer shorter diaries throughout my trip, but for now, this is a sampling of what things have been like for me during my first two weeks here. Stay tuned for more in the coming days and weeks.


  1. i’m kind of with you in that. I support El Tri just about every time they play someone other than the US, but they are making it harder and harder–from the dirty plays to the cocky and excuse-laden sore loser responses, to the lack of a handshake, to the fans with their bags of urine and getting all in a huff about Donovan’s urine . . . but I root for them nonetheless. I just wish they’d all grow up.

    But I put USA and Germany (my second home) ahead of them all.

  2. I want the Mexican team to do well, and Honduras for that matter. If we’re playing them, I pretty well hate them but it’s good for CONCACAF in general if they do well and our region could use the respect if nothing else.

  3. I’m with you there. But mainly because of my Cancun vacation starting tomorrow, I’m afraid to NOT be a Mexico fan…at least while they’re playing.

    I WILL be sporting my Dempsey 8 Wednesday at the sports bar.

    Go USA! ¡Viva Mexico! Until the qtrs.

  4. I root for Mexico in World Cups and Copa Americas, but just for them to do well. Never to win, and the reasons are selfish.

    Simply put, it helps CONCACAF build, or at least maintain, some level of credibility and respect. It also (should) help our ranking, if we’re beating teams in our region that are rated highly by FIFA.

  5. I’ve never been to a US- Mexico game, but know about the bad blood over the years. But I think the rivalry is gradually changing from one of hatred to one of mutual respect. Sure, there will always be a few obnoxious fans, but that goes for both sides. Mexico seems to be accepting the fact that the U.S. has established its global soccer credentials. At the same time, there are more young Mexican players on teams outside Mexico, which gives them a stronger appreciation of the respect international players have for each other. While the intense rivalry will always be there, I hope the foul play exhibited in the US – Mexico Round of 16 match in 2002 will be a thing of the past.

  6. As a Wisconsin Badger fan, I root for the Big Ten in bowl games. I also root for our regions high school teams when they advance past my hometown’s team. With that said, I enjoy rooting for Mexico (except when they play U.S. or Argentina), they’ve been playing attractive soccer and the Mexicans I have met have generally been friendly.

  7. all Latinos support Latino American countries.

    they even have my favortie commercial of all the copa on Univision that gives me goosebumps. it shows one person from a different Latin American team that made the World Cup – Mexico, Uruguay, Chile, Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, Honduras… and they say a brief cheer for their own countries, then at the end of the commercial it says, “en el futbol estamos unidos… arriba los estados unidos!” and it shows the aforementioned fans rep. their diff countries all cheering on USA! then it zooms in on screen showing USA players doing the stanky leg and says:

    “arriba los Estados Unidos!!!!”

    GO USAAAA!!!

  8. And rooting for them just because they’re a CONCACAF team makes no real sense to me. I’m a New Yorker – there’s no way in hell I’d root for the Red Sox just because they’re an AL East team, or the Cowboys just because they’re an NFC East team.

  9. Sorry, the behavior of their fans makes it impossible for me to root for them. Remember the “Osama” chant?

    I do.

  10. Like others, I definitely root for Mexico at the World Cup. Although I want nothing more than to trounce them when we play each other, I want CONCACAF to represent.

  11. Ask the Mexicans if they love the USMNT when they’re throwing urine bombs at Landon Donovan and USMNT supporters.

  12. Having spent the first week of the World Cup in Mexico City, and getting to watch the South Africa and France games in the Zocalo with tens of thousands of Mexican supporters, I can say that they have been really friendly to Americans and American supporters. Many told me they predict us to win Group C. However, when watching the US-Slovenia game on the giant screen in the Zocalo, there was definitely a strong majority rooting for Slovenia.

    Maybe its because most of the Mexicans at the WC live in the US, or maybe it was because Slovenia is an underdog, but it seems Mexicans in Mexico are much less likely to pull for the US.

  13. Nice update Ives! I was in mexico a few years back and some of the mexicans I met there would say that the US soccer has picked up and the team is good. Some even said that the US team was better than Mexico. Remember a few years ago when US played Panama in the Gold Cup finals, there were tons of Mexican fans hoping that Mexico made it but it didn’t. Most of those fans were cheering for US instead of Panama. I will still root for the US, not offense to Mexico. But USA is my team and country. Funny comment about the Beer ambush ad.

  14. Ives, anything further about a US player to Arsenal? You and Arsene go out for some Vino later on?

    (SBI-All I said was that I’d bet on Arsenal signing a USMNT player. Didn’t say it was definitely happening, or that I’ve heard that it’s happening, but with Arsenal planning to spend this summer, and with there being at least three Americans who could help Arsenal (Donovan, Bradley, Howard), I think it’s a safe flier to throw out there.)

  15. It really boils down to the no handshake. More than anything I want to support El Tri as my 2nd team for all the reasons stated above, number one being that they are gifted technicians with the ball at their feet and it is great to watch. But the no handshake is a slap in the face. Its disrespect to the game. The handshake should be mandatory in my view.

  16. Good stuff Ives. I was at the Netherlands-Denmark game as well but not sure if i saw those women. It was amazing how Elia electrifiied the crowd – every time he touched the ball the crowd stood to its feet.
    South Africa has been a revelation. For the most part people, black and white, are really optimistic about this country. I am staying in the burbs but have been to Soweto quite a few times and I havent felt unsafe once. Have you tried Bunny Chow?
    on the fans, the Mexican, Brazilians and Argies have been the most visible around Joburg. Went to Rose Bank Mall today and the Brazilians had their drums and guitars working.

  17. I always support Mexico outside of CONCACAF unless it conflicts with the US’ interests. They may be bastards, but their our bastards. If we both do well, then maybe, just maybe FIFA will give CONCACAF a little more respect.

  18. I didn’t know this about us US fans and Mex. Yes they don’t shake our hand after the match unless they win. But hey man, anytime Mexico isn’t playing the US I’m for the Tricolor! Go Mexico!

  19. Love the blog, Ives. However, I think you have been spending too much time with your friends from the Writer’s Guild. If you really want to know how the Mexican fans feel about “los norteamericanos” you should sit with the American fans when we go to Azteca. These people pretty much hate us. I’ve got the pictures to prove it.

    (SBI-No Jimmy, I’ve seen LOTS of Mexican fans go to USA games and root for USA, and I’ve talked to tons of Mexico fans and found a bunch who say they root for the USA. I’m sure there are yahoos at Azteca who hate all things USA, but to consider them the majority isn’t totally accurate.)

  20. Mexico has been playing some great soccer in this tournament which makes it much easier to cheer for them. I’d like them to get through to the 16 along with the US, it only makes concacaf stronger and gains us more respect. Now, if they start pulling out the late tackles, dirty play, that all goes down the drain

  21. I really like the Mexican team at this World Cup (especially Dos Santos and Chicharito). As a diehard USA supporter, I have no problems rooting for Mexico in this World Cup — that is, until we meet in the quarterfinals 🙂

  22. I’m rooting for Mexico as my second team. While I root against them in CONCACAF, a good showing from El Tri at the World Cup only enhances the reputation of our region globally. A strong Mexican national team reflects well on the US national team, and Mexico also plays an exciting brand of football.

  23. Great stuff Ives.

    It’s a funny thing about the Mexican team. As much as I dislike the cheap play they often exhibit on the field and how their fans treat opposing supporters, I still find myself getting behind the Mexicans because they are a fellow CONCACAF team. I’ve even gone to one Mexican watch party. In talking to my fellow US Supporters, I’m finding quite a few of them have also been following Mexico and they too have surprisingly found themselves supporting El Tri. Strange bedfellows for sure.

  24. I’ve adopted Portugla as my second Team and taken my place in Sam’s Army…even tough I was 14 when I arrived in the US.

  25. “(See, I had a feeling something was fishy about their outfits, which is why I took the picture. No, really.).”

    THAT made me chuckle…we’re sure you had some feelings there..

    Enjoy the cup and love live the hatred towards Mexico…

  26. I have never understood that position. See, I was born in Honduras, grew up in El Salvador until the age of 16 and that’s when we moved to the US. To me, the USA team is my first choice but I do root for the two countries because of my relationship to them.

  27. I’ll be rooting for Mexico as MY second team if the US doesn’t get out of the second round (except for Marquez who is and always will be a thug). Their resurrection under Aguirre has been amazing, and they have some great young players. Also, it does the US good in the long run to have a strong opponent.

  28. Thanks Ives!

    As for the Mexicans. I definitely root for them for one month every 4 years. Gotta support the CONCACAF brethren.

  29. I would hope that Mexico fans that live in the US would not hate the US and would respect us as their second team. Actually, I would REALLY hope that they’d adopt Mexico as their second team, and assume their positions in Sam’s army.

    You may say I’m a dreamer….but I’m not the only one.

  30. Great update Ives. Love hearing about your adventures. (I hate to be nitpicky but I think you meant Uruguay and not Mexico underneath the picture of the rim)

    Thanks again Ives!


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