|Katie Hadley's World Cup Blog|
Senior women's soccer player Katie Hadley has traveled to South Africa for the 2010 World Cup. She will see six World Cup games including all three of the United States' group stage games during her trip. She will be writing a blog periodically during her two week trip to South Africa.
By Katie Hadley
The day had arrived. The make it or break it day for the U.S. National team. If the U.S. beat Algeria they would advance, if they lost they would head home. As a superstitious fan, I decided that in order for the U.S. to win, I would need to change things up. I choose face paint. I painted the American flag on my face and the phrase "Yes We Can" on my arms.
We headed up to Pretoria/Tshwane after a late breakfast. Pretoria is one of the capitals, located just 30 minutes away from Johannesburg, and is where Nelson Mandela was sworn into office. There was a buzz outside the stadium from nervous fans and the sound of the Vuvuzelas [horns]. Many Algerian fans made the trip to South Africa, we met many fans before the game and took pictures. Our seats were great amongst other U.S. fans in this Rugby stadium.
The atmosphere was slowly getting more intense and the reality of this possibly being the last match for the Yanks was setting in. We funneled that nervous energy into singing the Star-Spangled Banner at the top of lungs. One of the most exciting and emotional parts of the games was being able to sing every word of the anthem that represented my country; it made me feel proud to be an American. These eleven men on the pitch are representing me and my country. We are there to show our complete 100% support for them, hopefully inspiring them at one point or another when things aren't going their way, or to rise up and fight through the pain.
Within the first ten minutes of the first half, Algeria had a shot that hit the crossbar, which made me very nervous. We seemed to have a few chances and then... GOOOOOOOAAAALLLLL!!!!! Clint Dempsey scored! I was turning around dancing, high-fiving people when again, just like the Slovenia match, I saw my brother signaling no goal. I couldn't believe it! What!? Again! I quickly found out that the goal was called offside, which I might have been able to believe; but the replay was shown on the big screen and Dempsey was definitely not offside. At this point we are wondering what the U.S. has to do in order to score a goal?! Yet again, we felt robbed; but with the opportunities that we had been creating, I was thinking that a goal had to be in order.
Halftime came around, still nil-nil. We found out that England was winning one-nil and the U.S. would have to win in order to advance.
Second half we continued having chances on goal. Most of the fans, including myself were too nervous to start many chants. The 80th minute roles around and the nerves set in. Dempsey has a shot off the post, with a follow-up miss. I start getting sick to my stomach. I'm thinking that it will be very disappointing to have come all the way to South Africa and the U.S. not advance.
The end of regulation time approaches and we begin to accept the perceived fate of the team going home. My sister and I begin to get a little teary-eyed; we truly believe this was the U.S.'s World Cup to do well in and make a mark. The assistant referee holds up his sign declaring four minutes of injury time. In the back of my mind I was thinking how amazing it would be for the U.S. to score in these closing minutes; I was trying to block out these thoughts, as to not get my hopes up too much.
Tim Howard saves an Algerian header and the attack that was heard round the world begins. He throws it out to Donovan, who passes it down the line to Jozy Altidore. Altidore crosses the ball into the center and Dempsey attempts a shot that is stopped by the Algerian keeper. Out of nowhere Donovan is front of the goal with the ball rolling his way. I'm thinking, "Please do not miss this, please!"
Could have this really happened?! I made sure that the goal actually counted this time, no fouls or offside calls. I couldn't stand one more goal being taken away. It counts! My tears of sadness quickly transformed into tears of happiness. The U.S. would advance! I honestly felt like I was a part of the team, feeling all the emotions as the players did. I know that feeling of desperately needing a goal in the closing minutes of a game; the empty, knotty feeling in the pit of your stomach when everything is on the line. I felt so proud of the U.S. team for not giving up and fighting to the end, leaving everything on the field.
In the moments after the goal, my brother, who was sitting two rows behind my sister and I, had managed to scale the seats and simultaneously, he picked my sister and I up. Seconds later we tumbled down onto the seats, later I realized I had accrued a bruise from this celebratory fall. As I began to tear up, I embraced everyone in my section, jumping up and down in celebration.
Being at the World Cup, one of the most fun things was meeting other American soccer fans. Instantly after meeting any U.S. fan, you felt close to them even if they lived on the opposite side of the country.
After scoring, Donovan ran and dove towards the corner flag, followed by a dog pile of the rest of his teammates. The whole crowd was astonished: one second we were out of the World Cup, the next we were advancing as winners of our group, a feat not accomplished for over 50 years. The match was a string of counter-attack after counter-attack, very exciting, yet very stressful.
The final whistle was blown. ... the U.S. advances! The 2,000 plus miles that I travelled to see the Yanks play was completely worth it, I would do again in an instant. This match was by far the best game that I have ever attended, with one the biggest changes in emotion I have ever experienced.
As all U.S. fans were on the verge of tears, swelling with emotions of pride and happiness, we continued celebrating for 20-25 minutes in the stands, soaking in this historical win. The team came over to thank the fans; Jozy Altidore was so excited, he jumped into the stands.
What is great about soccer is that in those 90 minutes, you don't care who the person is next to you, their political views, their religious views, their sex, race, etcetera. Everyone is united in those 90 minutes in supporting their team and nothing else matters. We heard on a South African radio station, that a South African black man who called in, was talking about this unity that was brewing among the South Africans in supporting their team, Bafana Bafana. He was recounting a Bafana Bafana match he had just attended, where South Africa scored a goal and he found himself embracing a complete stranger who was a young, white woman, an act which could have been punished less than 20 years ago under the Apartheid system. It is these kinds of stories that let me know that soccer is way more than a game.
The next day we went to a night game at Ellis Park between Spain and Honduras. I was so thrilled to finally see Spain play. Ever since watching Spain play in Euro 2008 on TV, I have absolutely loved how they play. Each player is amazingly skilled with the ball at their feet. Passes are crisp and to feet. There was an overwhelmingly large crowd rooting for the Spanish, but a few sections of Hondurans were present. Spain dominated the game with David Villa scoring two goals. Spain won in the end after playing some amazing football. My hopes are that if the U.S. doesn't win the World Cup, then Spain will.
Saturday, June 19, 2010
Before we went to our seats, we walked around the outside of the stadium through the fan zone areas. I was impressed by the amount of Slovenian fans at the game. For a country of just over 2 million people, compared to over 300 million in the U.S., they had a good number of supporters. My sister and I went up to the giant U.S. soccer ball and I signed it, "Charlotte Women's Soccer, 49ers;" we also showed our U.S. pride by dancing and waving our flag to the two theme songs for the World Cup, which are played continuously here in Johannesburg, "Waka Waka" by Shakira and "Wavin' Flag" by K'naan.
We made it to our seats an hour before kick-off, great seats just 20 rows up on about the 18 yard line... nearest the goal where all five goals would be scored on that day [I say five because the U.S. should have won 3-2]. The group of six people that I'm with [including my sister, brother, his friends and me], all did an impressive job getting our section to start U.S. chants. One of our favorites is the chant, "We love ya, We love ya, we love ya.... and where you go we'll follow, we'll follow, we'll follow.... 'cause we support the U.S., the U.S., the U.S.... and that's the way we like it, we like it, we like it... oh oh oh oh oh oooohh.... oh oh oh oh oh ooohhh." Along with about five other cheers, we helped create a fun pre-game atmosphere. I would like to say that the fans for the U.S. definitely stepped it up for this game. There were much stranger, more-outrageous costumes than at the England match, which was fun to look at.
The first half had begun and only ten minutes in, I felt like someone had punched me in the stomach... Slovenia had scored and the U.S. was looking awful. We couldn't string three passes together... and the defense that had stopped Wayne Rooney for 90 minutes was nowhere to be found. Just as my hopes and spirits were beginning to lift, since we had comeback from being down against England, another blow right to stomach... the U.S. was down 2-0. Shock, disbelief, astonishment were the feelings running through me and the U.S. crowd. How could the U.S. lose! Our hope of advancing would be almost crushed. In the fortieth minute, a calm feeling came across me. The U.S. was beginning to look a little more confident and for some reason I could feel a comeback was in order for the second half.
As the second half started, we looked much more dominating. Soon in, Donovan scored a beautiful goal, which in my opinion was way prettier than Maicon's goal against North Korea. Donovan knew what he was doing; he had no one in the middle, so he took it to goal himself. The electricity was back in the crowd and on the field. I knew officially that the comeback had begun. About twenty minutes later, Michael Bradley, the coach's son scored the equalizer. I think after that goal I hugged almost everyone within reach in our section. This game was beginning to remind me of the finals of the Confederations Cup a year earlier, except Brazil was the team down 2-0 to the U.S. at half and made a remarkable comeback. With less than ten minutes left, I thought this comparison to the Brazil-U.S. game was correct, when Maurice Edu scored a beautiful goal off of a free kick from Donovan. I have never celebrated or felt more proud to be American then during this moment. The U.S. had comeback; we would get three points and be in a great position to qualify for the next round. I was standing up on my plastic seat, dancing around, high-fiving everyone, getting different liquids sprayed on me from every angle, when I saw my brother signaling no. I think my heart stopped in disbelief. I turned around and the play had started again, way too quick for a goal/kick-off to have happened. What!? What!? No goal! We couldn't believe it. We didn't even know what the call was at the time... they didn't show it on the mega screen. My brother and I were actually hoping that it was something legitimate, like a hard U.S. foul in the box or an offside call. But hours later after watching it on TV, the referee had the call completely wrong. Now every time I watch that play, which has been at least 15 times, I feel my stomach sink like when you ride a rollercoaster. The wound is still fresh and re-watching burns like putting salt on it.
Luckily, England tied Algeria, which puts the U.S. in a good position. We control our destiny, if the U.S. beats Algeria, we advance. Hopefully, the bad call, will be an incentive for the boys in red, white and blue to come out strong and get a win over Algeria.
Friday, June 18, 2010
By far the best fans award [other than the U.S. of course] goes to the Dutch! We went to the Netherlands-Denmark match a few days ago at Soccer City. I have never seen so much orange in my life. It looked as if the Dutch fans have this competition among themselves as to who can wear the craziest costume. We saw every sort of outfit you can imagine. As long as it was orange, it was fair game.
Soccer City is an amazing stadium built specially for the World Cup. Honestly though, it felt like I looked at the crazy fans and the stadium more than the match. The match was kind of boring. We thought the Dutch would dominate, but their first goal was an own-goal by a Danish defender. But when Dirk Kuyt put in the second goal for the Dutch, our section, full of the most-friendly, strangely-dressed Dutch people went nuts! My brother and I were in the aisle singing and dancing to the Dutch chants we had just learned, and when the goal went in we got hugged/tackled by the Dutch fans with so much force that we fell backwards onto the steps. It was a lot of fun being a Dutch fan for 90 minutes; they truly know how to have a great time.
Two days ago, we drove three hours up to Polokwane, South Africa to watch the France-Mexico match. Along the way we saw a lot of signs warning us of lions. I did manage to see a Zebra near the road with about ten Springboks next to him. After getting up to Polokwane, we went to a FanFest right near the stadium. We played 5v5 plus goalies against some locals. We fared well, but these guys we played against had magical footwork. They pulled moves that I have never even seen before. We ended up tying them in two 15 minute games. But in overtime they managed to score one more than us on the 25 by 15 yard field.
We have a French citizen among our group, who was excited to hopefully see a result for the French side. Well anyone who saw the match knows this did not happen. Our seats were among Mexican fans. Actually, I think everyone's seats were among Mexican fans. I think Mexico probably has the most fans in South Africa to cheer them on. After a cold, windy match [the temperature was -2 degrees Celsius], Mexico came out on top winning 2-0. I was hoping for a closer match, but I was excited for Mexico and CONCACAF to win.
Wednesday, June 16, 2010
The day after the game, I woke up without a voice, with a nasty cold, and a cut lip; all battle scars from attending the U.S. - England match the night before in Rustenburg, South Africa.
As we entered Royal Bafokeng Stadium the day before, the U.S. supporters chanted, "Oh when the Yanks, go marching in, oh when the yanks go marching in, oh how I want to be in that number, when the Yanks go marching in!" We got to our seats two hours before the match began and there was already electricity throughout the crowd. I was fortunate enough to be able to attend my first World Cup in South Africa alongside my sister, a current 49er getting her Ph.D. in Urban Education and my brother, a 2003 UNC Charlotte alum. We rented a house in Johannesburg for two weeks with five other U.S. supporters and have tickets to seven games in total. The trip up to Rustenburg was a short two hour drive. Rustenburg is a small, mining town, which most South Africans have never been to. It is equivalent to a small town in West Virginia hosting a World Cup match. The U.S. and English supporters all bonded over this strange location; however, the stadium facilities were great and the people are extremely friendly, which reminds me of the South in the U.S. Overall it was a great place to view my first World Cup match.
Sitting in an U.S. supporters section, throughout the game we somehgrow managed to drown out the sounds of the vuvuzelas [the infamous horns that sound like bees when watching the games on TV] with U.S. chants, our favorite being the simple "U-S-A" cheer. About five minutes into the game, when the U.S. defense broke down and Steven Gerrard scored, the outcome that I had been dreaming about since the World Cup draw in January flashed before my eyes. England started the game dominating; however, soon after their goal, the game became more even. When by some miracle, Clint Dempsey's shot went by England's goalkeeper Robert Green; the U.S. supporter sections erupted with celebration. The euphoria was like nothing I have ever experienced. We were surrounded by U.S. fans, who also flew over 2000 miles to see Donovan, Howard, Onyewu, Altidore, Dempsey, and others, hopefully wreck havoc in South Africa, as they had done a year earlier in the Confederations Cup. As chaos began to overtake our section in the seconds after the goal, other U.S. supporters became our best friends, high-fives flew and we all embraced. The celebration was so outrageous that my sister was picked up momentarily and I somehow ended up with getting hit in the lip by a flailing arm; however, all discomfort was overcome by that moment of pure joy we experienced. The second half proved full of heart-stopping moments, especially when Rooney would get the ball within striking distance, or after a powerful shot by my favorite U.S. striker, Jozy Altidore was denied by the crossbar.
The final whistle blew and I felt like I had just played a 90 minute game; but being at a World Cup match was one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life. I felt for those 90 minutes how soccer is not just a game. It is a way of life, it is a religion for many, it is a ritual, it is what can halt the traffic of a country, it is what can bring people together; but most of all, I learned that it is definitely not just a game. Soccer is an equalizer; a simple game that can be enjoyed by everyone, whether you have a million dollars or one dollar, all you need is one round object in order to play the world's game.Friday we headed to Ellis Park after a late breakfast. I was excited to go to the stadium where the historic events of South Africa winning the 1995 Rugby World Cup took place, which was portrayed by the movie "Invictus." Upon arrival, we instantly saw that Germany was losing 1-0 to Serbia, which I was happy about. I like World Cups when the expected superpowers don't advance or do as well as expected. It's always fun to root for an underdog. So this World Cup is beginning to be very interesting, with only two teams so far receiving all 6 points from 2 games.