Saturday, 3 July 2010

No quarter given as Uruguay and Holland advance to the semi-finals, leaving Ghana, Brazil and the Rat & Parrot devastated

World Cup fans are advised to spend some of their time in Africa glimpsing lion and buffalo. Alternatively, you could try the Rat and Parrot for the big game.
Yeah, yeah, it’s a pub. But not just any drinking hole, this one’s reserved for wild life in Grahamstown, about 100km inland from Port Elizabeth and tribes of celebrating Dutchmen in bright orange.
They call this the “City of Churches”. Last night it was a town of tears as Ghana, Africa’s last hope at the continent’s first World Cup, crashed out amid injustice and recrimination at Soccer City in Johannesburg.
Having witnessed the drama of Holland’s shock 2-1 quarter-final win over champions-elect Brazil first hand in Port Elizabeth, I expected a quiet night as I made my first return to Grimstown (the less austere nickname) since 1982.
This is the home of Rhodes University, where I graduated nearly 30 years ago with a scrap of paper which claimed I was a bachelor of journalism. I’ve been married to a keyboard ever since.
It’s also the home of South Africa’s burgeoning National Arts Festival; that dark drive from the delights of Dutch victory at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium was supposed to be taking me away from the World Cup whirl we have been cocooned in for the past month.
But no, the art-farty thousands here have an astonishing appetite for drama, ballet and all that jazz. Yes, I’m talking Ghana v Uruguay.
Shakespeare – or was it Marlowe? – couldn’t have scripted this one. The Rat & Parrot couldn’t bear to watch it. We were united in grief as Asamoah Gyan’s last-minute penalty rocked the bar at Soccer City, not to mention the bar in the Rat.
As the only man in an England shirt at both quarter-final gatherings, my immediate verdict (being an articulate analyst of the game for 40 years) was: “Bollocks.” Those around me used the more descriptive terms like “kak”, which I shall leave the Dutch to translate.
If foreigners who decried this World Cup want evidence of how wrong they were, yesterday was a perfect day for it. Port Elizabeth, heaving with 35,000 painted ladies (and men) in gold and orange, was stunning. Soccer City, packed with 83,000 Ghanaian fans, was humming. The Rat & Parrot, filled with actors and artists, was brimming.
From my perch in the Parrot on a metal strut under a table in the left-hand bar, it was clear Ghana were the better side. Last time I was in Grahamstown in 1982, Apartheid was in full cry. Now, black, white and green were united by a passion for art, football and Klipdrif (apparently it’s a local brandy, I thought it was medicinal).
For 90 minutes the Rainbow Nation showed it’s true colours. Not just the long-departed gold of South Africa, but the deep black of Africa. Bafana Bafana had become Baghana Baghana. Even devoted rugby fans in the Rat appeared to accept their roles as continental cohorts.
When the Black Stars’ naughty boy Sulley Muntari put the “home” side ahead right on half-time, the place Rat nearly ruptured. Drinks and flags flew. But when the deadly Diego Forlan’s free-kick found a way past Wigan reject Richie Kingson for the equaliser, an eery silence fell.
And then that dramatic last minute. Desperate Uruguay cleared one of the line. Then another – but wait, surely… Luis Suarez had handled on the line. Off he went.
Up stepped Asamoah for the winning spot kick. Just 12 yards to propel the leather sphere. But as so often in the tournament, the lightweight Jabulani ball flew high… and hit the woodwork. Oh the pain.
Asamoah was inconsolable. When pictures of Suarez celebrating his miss were beamed around the world, football took another small step back into the dark ages when cheaters prospered. Still, he’ll miss the semi-final against Holland at Green Point on Tuesday.
We were in to the penalty shoot-out. And somehow everybody knew. Uruguay. My guess is Cape Town will turn orange in response.

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