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Lousy Game, Great Stadium
The new Cape Town Stadium in Green Point is an awesome stage for our events, even boring ones.
"It was the occasion that was greater than the event," said a local journalist seated next to us. He was right. The football was rather weak, but the moment was still spectacular. Local soccer teams Ajax Cape Town and Engen Santos kicked the first ball in the - nearly fully finished - R4.5 billion Cape Town Stadium. A great addition to the city.
Everyone came out this weekend to welcome fans to the Cape Town Stadium that was purpose-built for the 2010 World Cup. Mayor Dan Plato, Western Cape Premier Helen Zille, Morne du Plessis, a rabbi and a priest - the last two to bless the stadium. The crowd cheered and chanted. Freshly Ground performed a couple of their most famous songs. Although they sang on the far side of the field, the crowd loved them just as well.
Of course, the vuvuzelas droned from kick-off until the final whistle. The atmosphere was great - no, it was marvelous. Capetonians were proud of their new venue, and it showed. It was a great spectacle to watch.
An impressive 1000 police officers were on duty to assure a spotless debut of the stadium. Every car approaching the stadium were sniffed by dogs. Bags were inspected upon entering the gates. People were frisked as they walked in. In spite of some arguments beforehand, alcohol was sold during the game. "But no incidents were reported," announced officials contently after the game.
Now, about the game. Oh well. Let's just say the vibey spectacle in the bleachers stood in contrast to the lack of energy on the pitch. Twenty-two players (twenty-one after Ajax's Clayton Daniels was given a red card in the first half) were keenly aware of the massiveness of the moment, yet were unable to translate that into an equally fabulous game. The media focused more on what was happening off the field, rather than on.
The boredom lasted a good 92 minutes. It was only in the 93rd minute that Santos actually had one good chance, which woke us from our vuvuzela-induced slumber. Ajax goalkeeper Hans Vonk's last-minute rescue managed to keep the Santos supporters in their seats. Just for a little while longer.
The stadium speaker announced the goalless game would be decided through a penalty shoot-out. No extra time, just penalties. The crowd came to life again. Ajax goalie Vonk (Dutch by origin) saved the day initially by blocking Santos' second shot. Woohoo! But then he failed to score his team's fifth shot. Noooo! Vonk could have been the hero, but ended up the scapegoat for the Ajax loss, 0-0 (6-5). Shame.
Although we personally still wonder why two of the Ajax penalty's had to be retaken (both initially blocked by Santos goalkeeper Motsoeneng), Santos deserved to win the game. And they did, capturing the inaugural Soccer Festival Trophy.
The post-game press conference showed two happy coaches. Dutch Ajax coach Foppe de Haan was slightly disappointed with his teams' performance, but "was very happy to play in the new stadium." He was particularly fond of 'the grass', he joked. "It is real Dutch grass."
Abubakaar Solomons, the leading man at Engen Santos, didn't really have anything to add about his team or the match. He just thought "it was a great day for football and South Africa."
He's right. The opening of the Cape Town Stadium marks the official kick-off of the year 2010, in which it's all about football and South Africa. We're looking forward to it. Just as we look forward to more great events at our new stadium. Capetonians - please come to the new grand stadium and enjoy the art of local football... even if the game itself isn't too magnificent, the atmosphere is!
By Inge Abraham