Electric start to 2010 World Cup

GARETH WHEELER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 5:14 PM ET

JOHANNESBURG - It was an opener like no other.

They are hosts like no other.

And they were taking on a passionate travelling contingent willing to fly halfway around the world to show their colours.

South Africa and Mexico provided a rousing start to the FIFA World Cup. It was a picture perfect sunny day. The weather may have been cold, but the passion inside Soccer City was red hot.

Not having internet access at my seat couldn’t spoil the mood. Perfect sightlines and high emotion reeled me right in.

The speeches and anthems were one thing, but when the opening whistle blew, all finally realized the African World Cup dream had come true.

The Bafana Bafana were almost silenced from the get-go as Mexico challenged early and often. South Africa left-back Lucas Thwala had a nightmare start. Beat on the dribbling, beat on the run, and beating himself by playing poor balls.

And Mexico took advantage. Giovani Dos Santos was a menace, whipping fierce balls across the penalty area.

If it wasn’t for striker Guillermo Franco’s ineptitude, missing multiple chances, and some timely saves by South African goalkeeper Itulemeng Khune, it could have been over early.

But South African grew in confidence as time went on. And the next thing you knew, the halftime whistle blew. As the saying goes, time flies when you’re watching soccer – or having fun.

At the whistle, it was time to make my move.

First to the Media Centre. Deadlines are a killer. And 20 minutes later, as I was uploading my first video, cries and screams of joy rocked the place.

Not a product of a biased media. It was the the South African workers and volunteers who erupted. As did the adjacent stadium.

Siphiwe Tshabalala’s top-corner strike set Soccer City ablaze. And I was none the wiser. I had missed a magical moment.

For a moment, I felt anger. Why wasn’t I in the stadium to experience it with the other 84,490 strong?

That anger almost instantaneously turned to joy. The excitement on faces of those on the outside looking in, not able to get into the stadium, will be a memory I will carry with me forever.

Perhaps the aforementioned South African goalkeeper Khune should have considered the passion of the fans inside and outside the stadium before criticizing millions of his country-mates who had invested so much to supporting the home side.

After the game, Khune insisted his teammates had no home-field advantage. Somehow, the goalkeeper missed the buzzing of the vuvuzela’s and undying support. For such a fantastic performance, Khune instantly damaged his reputation by insisting there was a substandard environment that created a Mexican advantage. It’s complete nonsense.

After missing the opening goal, I could take no more. Back to the stadium I went.

The sound in the stadium upon my return was deafening. And my seat was taken. Instead of sitting with the other media types, it was time for an upgrade to my seating arrangements.

So, a seat with the Mexican fan contingent. Bring on the Green Army!

This is where it got interesting.

I met my new best friend – Jorge from Mexico. We dissected each and every way Mexican coach Javier Aguirre had ruined the side, including the decision to start goalkeeper Oscar Perez instead of the talented Guillermo Ochoa. Of course, Jorge had a lot more at stake. He went from wearing his sombrero to the sombrero blending into the ground.

But on came Blanco. And on came Javier Hernandez in place of the goat, Franco.

And the goal came. From guess where? You got it – the Mexican right side. Rafael Marquez, taking advantage of some soft back-post marking.

And let the celebration begin.

Jorge plowed through my aisle seat, running to the guy with the painted face wearing a poncho. And the beer started flying. Plastic bottles everywhere. Pure mayhem.

Forget the vuvuzela’s. It was the Mexicans’ turn.

The Mexicans spent the rest of the game more in a state of concern than celebration. South Africa had numerous chances to re-take the league, finding room behind a slow Mexican backline. And when South Africa had a shot go off the post with just minutes to go, I think I saw a Mexican fan throw up. Not sure if it was alcohol induced or the thought of dropping the opener.

After the final whistle, South African and Mexican fans alike embraced, hugging and taking pictures so they could always remember this magical day.

I took no pictures. But in my heart and head, this historic day will always be remembered.


Videos

Photos