World Cup highs and lows (so far)
World Cup 2010: Pretoria
Wednesday was undoubtedly a strange day. I felt slightly lost and disorientated, with a nagging thought at the back of my mind that there was something I ought to be doing.
It was the first time since 11 June that there was no football to watch. After 56 games over 19 football-filled days, the World Cup finally paused for breath.
Having travelled more than 3,000 miles on the BBC bus, visiting nine stadiums and watching 19 teams in action, I thought it was time that I also took stock.
So here are a few things I have enjoyed about this tournament - and some I haven't.
The good things
1. Diego Maradona
He might be just 5ft 5in tall but the Argentine legend is without question the biggest show in town.
His press conferences have been pure theatre, with the man with the diamond earrings and the salt and pepper beard unleashing the full gamut of human emotions. Smiles are quickly followed by rage, harassed journalists are chopped off mid-question or told that their enquiry is utterly stupid.
Maradona refuses to pull any punches. Photo: Getty
The great man appeared after his team's victory over Mexico covertly smoking a cigar and refused to leave when Fifa's media officer said the session was over, instead deciding he would take more questions.
He arrived at the ground in one shell suit, leading the singing on the coach. He changed into a natty grey number for the match and sported a different tracksuit for the press conference.
During every game he has paced back and forth in the technical area, treated us to a few keepy-ups if the ball came his way and pirouetted in furious frustration every time a decision has gone against his team.
I cannot remember a coach every being the biggest draw but he is pure box office.
2. Radio 2000
There is a commentator on this station who is, in my humble opinion, a genius. This unknown master of the mic described hardly any of the action in the France v Mexico game as we listened in the bus.
Instead, he treated us to lines delivered with a combination of intense excitement and sage wisdom, such as "hasta la vista Le Blues" or "Mexico score to take the lead, 2-0."
On another night, he delivered this footballing red-herring. "Argentine attack, MMMEESSSSIIIIIIIIIIIII........(long pause)...........shoots wide."
3. A stadium that looks like a giraffe
I have absolutely no idea what is going to happen to the Mbombela Stadium in Nelspruit now that the World Cup has drawn to a close there. Neither did any of the locals that I chatted with.
It cost £115m to build but there were allegations of financial irregularities while a local councilman, who had spoken out about the alleged corruption, was murdered.
However, the venue must take top marks for originality of design, with the 18 roof supports looking like giraffes. I just hope they find a use for it.
4. The Cameroon kit
This will hardly be an original thought to anyone who follows the team in the flesh on a regular basis. But, watching Cameroon take on Denmark in Pretoria, I was blown away by the dazzling effect of a player in full flight wearing the green, red and yellow of the west African side.
It created a wonderful blur of colour. Just a shame that they could not produce football of a similarly mesmeric quality. In stark contrast, the yellow and red stripes sported by Ghana in their victory over the USA left a lot to be desired.
5. The final round of group games
The opening round of matches were largely disappointing, with so many cagey fixtures, none more so than the 0-0 borefest between Uruguay and the hapless French. There were six goalless or 1-1 draws and six 1-0 wins in the opening 16 games.
Of course, that meant that there was plenty at stake in the third round of group matches.
According to my rudimentary maths, only Cameroon, Honduras and North Korea had nothing but pride to play for, while 2006 finalists Italy and France were sent packing in the final round of games.
The bad things
1. Empty seats
Yes, I know that South African sports fans have a reputation for turning up late at games but that simply doesn't explain the large number of empty seats that I have seen at every single match I have watched.
Some attendances have been particularly disappointing; with the match between Portugal and Ivory Coast in Port Elizabeth an excellent example. The stadium holds more than 48,000 but just 37,034 turned up. Then again, perhaps some people knew what sort of game it was going to be. Apparently, it was even worse for the contest between South Korea and Greece in the same arena.
As for the corporate areas, speaking purely on anecdotal evidence, I would say that occupancy has been way below 50%.
I've thought long and hard about this one. At first, I tried to convince myself that it was part of the culture of watching football in South Africa and should be respected as something fresh and new, a bit like the Mexican wave that the 1986 World Cup gave to the world.
Vuvuzelas - you either love them or loathe them. Photo: Getty
However, the vuvuzela swamps every other attempt to generate an atmosphere. Singing and chanting just hasn't stood a chance. Poor.
3. The birth of the Kaitarism
There is no doubt that Nigeria's Sani Kaita was a very silly boy when he saw red for a needless lunge at Greece's Vasileios Torosidis. His 33rd-minute dismissal cost his team the game as a 1-0 lead turned into a 2-1 defeat. It also gave birth to a new word, as this post from Jesse-Pool in a blog I wrote about the match explains in quite some detail:
Kai*ta, Kai*tas, kai*ta'ed, kai*ta'ing
1. To single-handedly dash the hopes and aspirations of one's nation in the full glare of other nations;
2. To karate-kick your way out of the greatest stage/spotlight ever known to man;
3. To destroy/zap/siphon the energies of team-mates plus 140 million people through unexplainable stupidity;
4. To act foolishly, unintelligently or irrationally and IMMEDIATELY regret the action by falling on your knees.
(Etymology: Derived from the dreadful match between Nigeria and lowly Greece at the 2010 Soccer World Cup)
"Please, please, do not KAITA what we have been building for 50 years o! Oloshi!"
"I don't care what people say, I will KAITA the multi-billion dollar plan!"
"That man, you know, the hopeless, useless, visionless, KAITAing guy!"
"I was KAITAing until I met Jesus!"
7. Shege Banza!
Please feel free to investigate the original blog for the rest of the definition.
4. Mixed zone madness
The mixed zone is an area players have to walk through after a match as they make their way to their bus. The route has a barrier on each side, beyond which are journalists hoping to interview the players. Whether the players stop or not is entirely up to them.
After Cameroon lost to Denmark, I was stood next to a colleague from BBC Radio 5 live. Samuel Eto'o walked past but he does not speak English and thus was of limited interest to us (being typically poor at languages). Someone shouted his name and the Inter Milan forward stopped just in front of us.
A scrum of journalists immediately crushed us against the barrier, which duly gave way and had to be held up by two volunteers. Had it completely collapsed, we would have crashed into Eto'o, potentially injuring one of the world's finest players. Thankfully, we escaped with nothing more than bruised ribs
5. Black Sunday
Not a great day for officials. First, Frank Lampard was denied a totally legitimate goal because the referee and his assistants failed to spot his strike has crossed the line - and by some considerable distance.
There was a referee's open day earlier this week at which the media were welcome to attend. Guess who didn't show? Yep, Jorge Larrionda and Roberto Rosetti - the men in the middle in the two games of shame.
So there you have it, my highs and lows so far. There are just eight games left - and one of those is the meaningless third/fourth place play-off.
How this tournament will be judged still hangs in the balance - and after a largely flat round of 16, a few classic encounters between now and 11 July would be most welcome.
Do you agree?