27 June 2010

World Cup action

After years of watching work on the Nelson Mandela Bay stadium, over the past week we finally got to experience just what it was built for - World Cup action. It certaily lived up to our expectaions. The first match we watched was the final group encounter between England and Slovenia, which England had to win in order to progress. They scraped through 1-0. On Saturday, we watched the first of the last-16 matches, in which Uruguay beat South Korea 2-1.

England fans start to arrive at the spruce stadium.

Two fans, the one on the left going by the name of Luke Bentley and the other his brother Douglas, savour the brilliant architectural and engineering gem as they head to their seats

The glass-fronted booths had us mystified for a while, but we assumed they are special TV commentary studios.

At each match, official flags of the two competing teams flank the Fifa flag.

Sprinklers water the pitch ahead of the game.

England fans stake out their territory with their flags.

England in the foreground, and Slovenia, warm up.

Wherever a space was on offer, the English fans covered it with the cross of St George.

The three in blue on the right are the referee and linesmen, who also need to warm up.

With about half an hour till kick-off, the stand fills up nicely.

Press box. The rows of white "desks" reserved for the media were almost chock-a-block.

Even during practice ahead of the game, Wayne Rooney battled to get the ball into the back of the net. But, in truth, he had a fine game, hitting the upright and setting up several other goal-scoring opportunities.

Shortly before the teams came out, the vuvuzela-led cacophony was at its height, as the last of the spectators took their seats.

The nationl flags are taken onto the pitch ahead of the national anthems.

The game was played in perfect conditions, as reflected in the gentle pink clouds above the stadium shortly before sunset.

Before heading for the stadium on Saturday, we visited the refurbished Donkin Reserve, where this giant SA flag, measuring 12m by 8m was flying.

The 1820 Donkin pyramid and lighthouse have been neatly integrated into the upgrade.

Even the navy was present, with a frigate spotted in Algoa Bay, while tourists enjoy a hands-on sculpture by Anton Momberg on the Donkin Reserve.

Inside the stadium and a group of Korean fans ham it up for the cameras ahead of the game.

A kuduzela - a vuvuzela shaped like the horn of a kudu - and guitar are among the colourful items used by these fans pictured on the big screen during the build-up.

Ref's turn again. The ref and linesmen join the Koreans during warm-up.

The mascot Zakumi, which took something of a back seat to the ubiquitous vuvuzelas, was the fun toy of this young fan, while her dad took pictures of the momentous occasion.

Reminding fans of that epic opening concert at Orlando Stadium, during the build-up snatches of Shakira singing Waka Waka were shown.

Finally, as the warm weather gave way to a cool, cloudy evening, the teams emerged for the anthems.

The Koreans unfurled two massive flags during the singing of their anthem.

There was a throng of photographers at the corners behind both goals.

The Uruguayans celebrate after scoring their opening goal.

The heavens opened towards the end of the second half, as South Korea battled in vain to find an equaliser.

06 June 2010

5 days to go

In a last city tour of FIFA World Cup preparations, one can see that finishing touches are being applied and everything is up and ready for action come June 11. The tour encompassed the beach front, stadium precinct, Donkin Memorial and St George's Park cricket ground, host of the fan park showing World Cup matches. All looks in good condition with the city far cleaner and more pleasing to the eye than usual. Roads being tarred around the stadium are complete. Beautification and landscaping of the precinct are now complete. The beach front area has also received attention, with removal of the unsightly old swimming pool, as well as Brooke's Pavilion building completed and currently underway respectively.

The Donkin Memorial, however, seems problematic. It looks doubtful that it will be completed before the first match kicks off. The large SA flag should've been hoisted by such time but surrounding earthworks are still ongoing. One can only hope it'll be completed during the tournament for tourists to frequent during quarterfinal and 3rd place matches.

The fan park at St George's Park is being prepared, with a large 75m squared screen being put in place and a stage being assembled next door. This stage will host local talent before kickoff, during halftime intervals and after the match. The fan park looks the place to be for a true World Cup vibe if one lacks tickets into the stadium.

Pictures illustrating such developments:

Beach front developments are diverse. Flags and colours are the order of the day as the Tournament draws nearer.

On the left goes the big screen, on the right, the stage. The fan park will have a carnival atmosphere.

Further view of the setup.

From the opposite end of St George's Park cricket ground.

Main route into the stadium. BRT infrastructure in place as the colossus looms in the background.

Medical tents for the injured players.

Landscaping of the surrounds includes this unique paving stone encircling the newly planted tree. Lights are astride to light up the trees for night matches.

Hyundai circular advertising structure. Certainly catches the eye.

Ticket retrieval and searching. The excitement will palpable in this set of narrow passages come match days.

FIFA signage on the entrance. The walkway towards the entrance is paved and well lit, and increases the anticipation a notch before walking into the bowl.

A typically South African, Eastern Cape flower, the aloe. A true taste of SA for foreigners visiting the games.

The centre of attention in Nelson Mandela Bay over the next month.