World Cup getting wild

GARETH WHEELER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:39 AM ET

SOMEWHERE NEAR DURBAN ---There's watching a soccer game, then there's watching a soccer game!

Here in South Africa, I've now seen games in six of the 10 FIFA World Cup stadiums, each compelling and special in its own way.

But what I saw today was truly one of a kind. It was a distinct experience, relative to only South Africa. An experience I will not likely ever have again.

For an hour before the England-Slovenia match, instead of seeing supporters drink themselves into a frenzy, I witnessed giraffes, elephants and buffalo walking freely right before my eyes.

Just 20 minutes outside Durban proper, is a game reserve. Umzinyathi Canoe Club is located there, right near Shongweni Dam. The beautiful beachfront locale and surrounding mountains and forest is the home for kayakers, cyclists and socialites alike.

Every Wednesday night, this group of adventuresome, athletic types gather to take advantage of their surroundings; a breathtaking, picturesque experience for all fortunate enough to partake.

As the paddler's practised and rowed over the pristine, glass-like water, the England game played on the screen at the non-descript clubhouse. Charming and tranquil at a time England was tooth and nail, fighting its demons to get to earn a spot beyond the group stage.

It was almost surreal. On the screen, in a place not so different than I was just an hour ago, life and death on the soccer field was reality. Outside the window and in the wilderness, there was another kind of survival, much more real and primitive.

It's life and death every day out there. And to see creatures as such in their natural habitat as such is nothing like I've ever seen before. And the sky, pastel colours et all, with the sun coming down over the mountain range, was as spiritual as it gets for a guy who's not spiritual as such.

But the true religion was played out on the screen in the corner of the room. And England side rife with apparently dissention and weakness in the ranks. Yet the side persevered. It wasn't pretty. It wasn't all that well earned either, but the England boys made it through.

Wayne Rooney cannot be fit. The struggling striker looks a shade of himself in South Africa compared to his contributions on home soil. The midfield, which is blessed with quality, continues to give up the ball too much.

And the central defence, on now its fpurth choice centre-back, Matthew Upson comes up with a massive block late in the game to ensure the team advances.

Now the Germans lie ahead in the Round of 16. The history is there. The next chapter ready to be written.

And despite their struggles, who will ever write off the English? The game transcends the sport. It means so much more. On the 27th in Bloemfontain, it's the rivalry renewed on the world's biggest stage.

Whatever has transpired over the past two weeks is irrelevant. Scrap the past. England vs. Germany is a different animal altogether.

If England doesn't get past Germany, it is the victim of its own demise. Winning the group would have put it on the side of the draw featuring Ghana, South Korea and Uruguay. None of those sides truly scare anyone. Now it's the United States who are the beneficiary.

One of those teams will make the semifinal. If I were a betting man, Uruguay would be my pick. Not conceding a goal through three games is a tremendous record. And the ability to score to boot makes the prospect of an all-South American final just that much more realistic.

But the next round of play is all about survival. It is primitive. It is each team fending for itself in the soccer wilderness.

The beauty of the landscape is a thing to behold. But the beauty of the game at this desperate, emotional level is another thing to cherish and experience in its rawest form.


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