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Archive for June 15th, 2010

• Tuesday, June 15th, 2010

Spirits were high despite the chill on Tuesday night. Fans had come from all over to see Brazil beat North Korea. No matter to whom I talked, the answer was the same.

Dylan Peterson of Johannesburg had Brazil winning the match 2-0. Fellow Joburg resident Charles Wan predicted Brazil, 3-1. A Brazilian fan who brought his own flag to the match? 4-0 Brazil. Derrick Brown, a Scotsman visiting his brother in Johannesburg, did not even provide a final score, forecasting that Brazil would win by “a lot.” A college student from Beijing wasted no time with her prediction. “Of course Brazil,” she said, “but I hope Korea could make a goal,” she added meekly. Brazilian fans painted Ellis Park Stadium in a sea of green and yellow in anticipation of a blowout.
So imagine their surprise when the whistle blew at halftime and the scoreboard still read 0-0. The North Korean defense had held against the Brazilian offense’s renowned joga bonito for a full 45 minutes. When the goal drought finally ended in the second half, Brazil’s supporters roared with relief as much as enthusiasm. The atmosphere was a bit more relaxed as another goal put Brazil up 2-0, but the tension would rise again before the final whistle. Ji Yun Nam’s strike in the 89-minute of the match sent a shockwave through the stadium. The lowest-ranked team in the tournament had scored against tournament favorites Brazil?

Even though the fans got to celebrate that night (one group of fans even marched down the exit ramp with drums) the fact remained: North Korea had given Brazil a fight. Even without victory, such a performance will send a message to the rest of Group G: Portugal and Ivory Coast had better watch their backs.

This match could mean one of two things: either Brazil has lost a step, or North Korea is able to keep up with the big boys. The truth is most likely somewhere in the middle, and further matches should give us a definitive answer. Personally, I have my money on the latter.

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Category: Features  | One Comment
• Tuesday, June 15th, 2010

You could hear it many times, but the story never gets old. You cannot talk about the history of South Africa without mentioning the dark days of apartheid. And what you find out once you get talking to anyone 25 and over in South Africa, is that everyone has a different story to tell about the same subject.

On a trip to the food vendor stalls while catching a first-round match between Denmark and the Netherlands at a fan park in Soweto, I met Chris Retsos, who now runs a Greek food vending stand called Taki’s. But in 1984 he was a new enlistee into the South African Army charged with preserving white minority rule, which was facing opposition from various black groups.

As the child of Greek parents, Retsos was raised by his grandmother, unaware of the disparity between South Africa’s whites and blacks until he honored a mandatory call to join the military at 17. He told me at the time he never had any problems with blacks, which I’m inclined to believe based on how easily he relates to everyone he works with. However, believing he was doing his duty to his country, Retsos said he became chauffeur to the many soldiers who killed, brutalized and arrested blacks opposed to apartheid.

Today marks Youth Day in South Africa, a national holiday in honor students like Hector Pieterson, one of the youngest killed June 16, 1976, during the Soweto uprising. Retsos, now 43, tells me that he wasn’t one of those sent to monitor the protest, but he remembers the story vividly. Pieterson, a 12-year-old who accompanied his sister on the protest, was gunned down. Mbuyisa Makhubu, an older student who carried Pieterson through the streets, was gunned down as well.

Photograph by Wandoo Makurdi

It’s hard to imagine the horror black South Africans faced. But it’s also hard to imagine the guilt that washes over Retsos as he remembers doing things in the name of his country. As I listened to him describe how a sjambok, a rubberlike whip that cracks your skin on first touch, I started to think back to my native Nigeria’s own history with its colonial masters Britain. Just like the Dutch did with South Africa, the English swooped in on my forefathers’ ignorance and claimed Nigeria’s rich natural resources. Through history books I know Nigerians were not subjected to the torture of the South Africans; nor were we forced to abandon our mother tongue.

Eight years ago, Retsos relocated to Greece, but still returns occasionally. He says he harbors no shame in telling his story because it will always remain a part of his life. He considers himself lucky to have only been a driver, and not an enforcer. He talks about a friend who was deployed to the country’s border where many blacks were, who wakes up every day with nightmares. He thinks about his three children — two girls and a boy — who thankfully never have to experience what he did. And he vehemently proclaims he will never allow his son to fight any war. Visiting his son in prison is a much better option that risking his death for senseless wars, he tells me. Mostly, Retsos thinks about how Nelson Mandela could forgive those who murdered and terrorized his family, comrades and community so easily; a decision he admits he would never have made if given the choice.

Since I arrived in South Africa, I’ve continuously pointed out all the reasons this country is better than Nigeria. What I never stopped to think about was how lucky I am to have been born in Nigeria and not here. At 26, I would’ve been a child in the final years of apartheid; maybe one of those whose skin was cracked by the likes of Retsos. But then I look at this man, full of joy and a likable persona, as he talks and laughs easily with his black workers, and I realize that I, too, might be able to forgive a man who did nothing more than what he was ordered.

Signing out from South Africa with love!

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Category: Blogs  | 4 Comments
• Tuesday, June 15th, 2010

Photograph by Rachel Gadson

U.S assistant coach Mike Sorber said three points on Friday would put the team in a good position to advance to the second round of the 2010 World Cup.

“A win in the next game will be ideal,” Sorber said during a brief interview outside Soccer City Stadium, where he was attending the Netherlands-Denmark game on Monday. “Playing well and getting a good results. Two wins would be ideal.”

U.S players have said that progressing beyond the opening round is essential for a successful World Cup. In 2006, the U.S. side opened the tournament with a disappointing 3-0 loss to the Czech Republic, scored one goal in three matches and finished last in its group.
South Africa has been a kind venue to the U.S. over the past four years. The Americans beat South Africa in a warm-up several years ago and followed that up with a Confederation Cup final appearance last year.

On Monday, the U.S. squad had the day off. Coach Bob Bradley is preparing his team for a crucial fixture against group leaders Slovenia, who earned three points with a 1-0 win against 10-man Algeria on Sunday.

The Americans were buoyed by a draw against group C favorite England at Rustenburg on Saturday after English goalkeeper Robert Green’s first-half blunder allowed Clint Dempsey’s equalizer. England captain Steven Gerrard put his team ahead after four minutes.

Sorber said the encounter was a good, hard-fought, back-and-forth game. Coming from behind showed the Americans’ toughness, he said.

“Mentally, we were strong and we stuck with the game plan,” he said. “In the end, it worked out for us.”

During the first half England forward Emile Heskey slid into U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard boot first. Howard reportedly received a cortisone shot for pain to his ribs at halftime. Sorber said the collision left Howard with marks and bruises, but the U.S. man of the match from game one is expected to play against Slovenia. “He’s going to be OK,” Sorber said. The United States plays Slovenia at Ellis Park Stadium in Johannesburg Friday, while England plays Algeria at Green Point Stadium in Cape Town.

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Category: Features  | 2 Comments