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Live from SA: Bloemfontein and Keown

Hello again, this time from the Solo Gracia guesthouse in Brandwag, Bloemfontein.

When we last spoke I was sitting on the floor at the Jo'burg airport, preparing for a flight to Bloemfontein. I'd not heard much of this host city so we decided to ask our driver Devan (Deevanne? Sp?) about it. We had the following exchange:

"So, what's Bloemfontein like?"

"Bloemfontein isn't good for much else besides farming corn. I hope you are excited to farm the corn, as you say in America."

Needless to say, I wasn't too pumped, despite the fact that Bloem was the first city in which we had match tickets. We were set to see Paraguay-Slovakia, which on the face of it looked like one of the more forgettable clashes of the group stage, but I was hopeful. Both sides would be fragile emotionally, after dropping points late on in each of their opening matches, and both would feature good attacking players (Hamsik, Barrios, Stoch, blah blah blah).

Anyway, back to the flight. I had assumed the planes would be small at some point this trip, but not THIS small, even for a flight just under an hour long.

My consternation was augmented by the fact that of what was maybe 30 seats on the plane, 10 were being filled by a merry (read:drunken) band of Slovakian brothers. These guys were like the O'Doyle(Billy Madison reference...had to!) family on crazy Eastern Bloc steroids. Absolutely nuts, pounding two beers at a time, singing, burping, the whole show.

The best part was that just before takeoff, our flight attendant comes on and announces, "We ask that you remain in your seats for the entirety of the flight, as any passenger movement could unbalance the plane while it is airborne."

Guess what happened? Yep, we hit cruising altitude and next thing I know it's literally musical Slovakian chairs on the damn aircraft. Every one of these dudes had to try the bathroom, sit in the front row (vacant, unfortunately) and/or look for a flight staff person to ask for more beer. Sit the #$%& down, bro! What are you doing?! Safe to say right then I made the decision to back Paraguay.

There was one other man who couldn't be bothered to stay seated, although he was not from Bratislava. Indeed, it was the impeccably polite (ha!) former Arsenal hardman, Martin Keown. Now, I am an Arsenal supporter, but not because of Mr. Keown. He was a bit taller than I envisioned, but just as cold.

He seemed pretty bummed when I asked him what he thought of the US performance against Slovenia. He offered the following in response to my inquiry:

"Yes, I saw that game. I covered that game for BBC TV."

OK, dude, whatever you say. Not sure if you caught my accent or not, but it ain't like my eyes are plastered to BBC coverage on the 'tele' back in the UNITED STATES. Seriously, bro. I don't even know what BBC stands for.
So we land, grab our bags and cruise to the main pickup area where we were due to be picked up. Our ride never showed to we hopped on a shuttle with the Solo Gracia guesthouse in mind.
One thing FIFA is killing it with are the amazing staffs of volunteers at each host city. They are all very accomodating and friendly, but the problem is that they're from all over the shop. As such, homeboy driving the shuttle had no idea where James Scott St. was located, he just put he pedal to the metal because that's what we asked of him.
About 20 minutes into ouir journey, I realized he had no clue where he was going. None. He was literally just circling the same block over and over again. Hoping our spot would magically pop up.
"Ummmm, guy. I appreciate the effort and all, but we've been past the Protea Hotel three times, it's not gonna be any different on the fourth try."


The match today? Well, it was the least attended match so far, which always makes you feel special when you thwomp down $120/seat. What makes you feel even more special is when, upon admission into the stadium, you take a look at your ticket and it reads "Level: Top, Row: Z".

Level Top, row Z? Are you joking me? We had seats in the very last row of the entire stadium.

The play on the field was a bit sleepy, I think mostly due to the sun sitting directly over the pitch. It was one of those weird cold-hot suns, which leaves you achy afterwards. Paraguay bossed the match from the off, and they were always going to earn the three points. They seem to have found a useful combination of grit, skill and finishing, and they always pick the right pass. The Slovakians were not helped by the fact that their captain Hamsik looked more interested in his impending summer vacation than creating anything of value, and early in the second half their manager completely lost the plot, moving his best wide player (his son, as it were) infield, compromising any width they had leading up to then.

It was a good match to see first, as our upcoming games should see quite a bit more excitement, better play, better attendance and less sun in our eyes. Ghana-Germany promises to be electric.

Only problem with that? More vuvuzelas than today. Peace.