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Our correspondent checks in

NBA player Steve Nash shares a pint with his old school chum Eric, and our correspondent, on the right.

Steve Nash shares a pint with his old school chum Eric, and our correspondent, right.

Simon ‘The Happy Hoofer’ Hagens is in South Africa for two weeks of World Cup football and boozing. He’ll be providing irregular (and we mean highly irregular) updates for At The Rails, and through Twitter. Enjoy!

Touching down in Cape Town Thursday morning, the night after South Africa’s 3-0 loss to Uruguay, was a little like attending a New Year’s Eve party on the morning of January 1st. Clearing customs took a while, as the agent complained about Bafana Bafana’s performance and South Africa’s chances, paying little attention to the credentials of me and my disreputable companions. Long faces drooped on the streets and in the bars. A lone vuvuzela would sound out only occasionally. But as the day progressed and England fans continued to pour into the city, the mood became merrier, louder and drunker. As France took the field against Mexico in Polokwane, the French anthem was drowned out in our Cape Town pub by English supporters singing ‘God Save The Queen.’ The Mexican death-blow to the French generated a sense of jubilation, which spilled over into the next day for England-Algeria. The Algerian fans were great in the run-up and after the match, totally full of energy.

Our correspondent and his England mates share a cheer with some Algerians on the Cape Town waterfront.

Our correspondent and his England mates share a cheer with some Algerians on the Cape Town waterfront.

Green Point Stadium in Cape Town is beautiful and pristine, perched between the mountains and the ocean and equipped with a football field’s worth of urinal. Near perfection in design. The lone flaw? There’s only one entrance for all 64,000 fans, a few short of what’s needed, and the only time I felt the England fans might actually lose their temper.

As England entered the pitch, they’d have been hard pressed to think they weren’t on home soil. The St. James cross outnumbered Algerian flags at least 20-1, and the stands were a sea of red and white. God Save the Queen boomed as the anthems were sing. Inspiration, one would think. Despite the scoreline, it was not a boring match to watch live. Algeria were quite competent, although many in the crowd gave more credit to lack of competence for the ‘home’ side. Frank Lampard received plenty of ill will for his uninspiring play, while much more was expected of Wayne Rooney. The most enthusiasm came following Peter Crouch’s entry late in the second half. As the minutes ticked down, despite some limited excitement near the end, it felt like a foregone conclusion. And while the draw was a bit of a letdown, our blues were erased when Fatboy Slim took the stage in the convention centre a few hours later to put on a stunning show (including, with a favourable exchange rate, $3 Cdn. pints).

For England, it all rests on a victory over Slovenia on Wednesday in Port Elizabeth, which is our next game. It looks to be a challenge for the Three Lions, and should be greatly entertaining. We’ll update again then.

Simon Hagens

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Swiss bliss is Spain’s pain as hosts look like toast

Spanish fans in Madrid can’t believe the score against Switzerland.

The upset of the tournament so far, and one of the biggest upsets in decades, has turned Group H into a dogfight for reigning European champions Spain, who went down to Switzerland 1-0. The deciding score came early in the second half, a scrappy goal by Gelson Fernandes, who bundled the ball in after a collision between Spanish keeper Iker Casillas and Swiss forward Eren Derdiyok. Spain’s Xabi Alonso hit the bar late on, but the Swiss held on for a famous win, and will vie with Chile (who broke a 48-year winless streak at the World Cup by beating Honduras 1-0) for control of the group, while Spain will have its work cut out to avoid second place and a possible match-up with Brazil in the round of 16.

The late game saw the hosts lose keeper Itumeleng Khune to a somewhat dubious red card while Diego Forlan scored twice, including once from the spot after Khune was dismissed, in a 3-0 victory for Uruguay, which was hardly the way anyone in South Africa wanted to mark the 34th anniversary of the Soweto student uprising, and did little to make anyone feel better about the disturbing news of strikes by poorly-paid security guards and protest marches against the FIFA fatcats, who won’t even let a bunch of women in orange miniskirts get their party on. It’s no surprise, but a bit of a shame, that Bafana Bafana are likely to bow out after their final Group A game against France, making them the first host team ever not to reach the knockout round.

It seems the World Cup may also be over for Italian netminder Gianluigi Buffon, whose back is a bit wonky. Maybe the long flight down didn’t do him any favours. At least he probably travelled in more style than CBS correspondent Steve Nash. As for our correspondent, the Happy Hoofer was posing for pictures in Abu Dhabi this morning, killing time while waiting for a connecting flight (he’s the one on the right).

While Portugal were busy trying to get Cristiano Ronaldo’s yellow card rescinded, there was more fun elsewhere. With his team set to face the Red Devils of South Korea tomorrow, Argentina boss Diego Maradona was made available to a hungry pack of media wolves today, and didn’t disappoint, firing off shots at Pele and Michel Platini (damn French and their lack of social skills), revealing that Juan Sebastian Veron would not start because of a calf injury, and producing several other Maradona musings. Can’t wait to see his antics on the touchline tomorrow, and what suit his daughters dress him in.

Ian Harrison

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