Soccer was wild, and so are the animals

Ghana’s Asamoah Gyan, second right, heads the ball away from the goal during Friday’s quarterfinal match against Uruguay.

By CHRIS ZIEMER

(Editor’s note: Chris Ziemer, Sonoma Academy athletic director and head girls soccer coach, is blogging for The Press Democrat at the World Cup in South Africa).

July 2, 2010

DURBAN, South Africa –
I just returned to internet access after a few days on the go. What a day to return…

Netherlands shine bright against Brazil…

Renee and I watched most of the game in a South African restaurant by our hotel. When we arrived, Brazil was leading 1-0 and we missed much of the first half.

However, from what I saw of the second half, the Dutch were deserving winners. They did what so few countries have failed to do over the years, out-possess the Brazilians.

When the Dutch scored the equalizer, their coach’s expression showed me he felt confident it was going to happen and the go-ahead goal wasn’t far behind. And, it wasn’t. Once Brazil dropped to 10 men, Holland continued to possess and create chances. In fact, they were unlucky not to put the game out of reach at 3-1.

Brazil, on the other hand, was unable to regain a foothold on the game. They couldn’t possess the ball, failed to create any dangerous scoring chances, and even worse they began to self-destruct. Who climbed into the blue uniforms masquerading as Brazil?

Congrats to Holland!

Ghana loses in brutal fashion – Uruguay in, Brazil out.

Any loss at this level is usually brutal but this was the topper. I watched the game at the FanPark and the crowd was pulling for Ghana.

When it looked liked it was going pks, I called a taxi to beat the crowd and planned to watch the pks in my hotel. Fortunately, the taxi driver had the game on. He was very focused on the game, and less focused on the driving. Although we could hardly make out what the announcer said, when Ghana earned a pk, we both yelled in celebration.

Nothing against Uruguay, but I was pulling for the lone African team still alive. As Gyan stepped up to take the penalty kick, the announcer said, “Gyan has the entire hopes of his country and the continent of Africa on his shoulders.”

And then he missed … poor guy, as he had been a standout for the entire tournament. I wanted to rewind and do it again … it was such a storybook moment. In the end, Ghana should be proud, but it won’t take the sting out of the loss.

Bay Area legend Lorrie Fair in Durban…

Anyone who is familiar with soccer in Northern California knows Lorrie Fair. She and her twin sister Ronnie grew up in the Bay Area. Lorrie went on to play at the University of North Carolina and for the U.S. Womens National team where she played in both the Olympics and Women’s World Cup.

So, you can imagine my surprise when she rolled up in her Landcruiser at the WhizzKids United office. Lorrie has been on the road since January, where she and her trustee sidekick Eli, a sports photographer, drove from London, across Europe and Africa.

A few others were with them for parts of the trip, including one of my former coaches, Dr. Tom Simpson and his wife Maria. Their journey puts my little 35 African experience to shame.

Along the way, they have been working with and evaluating non-profits and charitable organizations.

The website which details their journey – from the stories they told it has been quite the journey – is http://www.thekickabout.org.

SportsMark managed to organize tickets for Lorrie and her boyfriend for the Brazil vs. Portgual game as well as three tickets to the Holland vs. Slovakia game.

It has been great fun for Renee and I to spend time with Lorrie, Jason and Eli as it’s always fun to connect with Americans abroad, especially when we are a part of the same tight knit soccer community and we have so many mutual friends.

Lorrie works with the LAFC Foundation now out of Southern California and one of the projects they are involved in is Mpilonhle, which is an amazing charity in Mtubatuba, which is in a very rural area about 2.5 hours from Durban. More on Mpilonhle later…

Finally a game reserve!

One of our goals in visiting Africa was to get a chance to experience a safari game drive. Boy did we get that, and then some.

At the urging of Dr. Michael Bennish, the Executive Director for Mpilonhle (more on him later), we headed to the Phinda Game Reserve, which is a massive, private game reserve. He lent us his car, made reservations for us, and pointed us in the right direction.

Renee and I took off on an adventure we won’t soon forget. And, that was before we arrived at Phinda, which is pure luxury in the middle of the South African bush. We were spoiled with wonderful food and service, and the room was a cabin/tentlike structure with a touch of elegance inside.

The entire cabin was surrounded with windows and as there wasn’t another one in sight it allowed for private views of the forest and animals of the area in the safety of your room. While all of this was clearly first class, the best part of the experience was the safari game drives.

We were in a group of six, which included a ranger/driver and tracker. In addition to Renee and I, we had a gentlemen who owned two private schools and his wife, as well as a member of the South African National Rugby team (or Springboks as recently highlighted in the movie Invictus) and his wife.

The player’s name was Butch (not sure of his last name), but I was told by several he is one of the top players in the team and currently plays in England.

On the game drives (2-4 hours), we managed to see elephants, a lioness, giraffes, cheetahs, and many other animals.

On our way back from Phinda, Renee and I drove through the Hluhluwe Umfolozi Parks, which is a government park and saw giraffes, zebras, monkeys and more.

Literally, you are driving on the road and a giraffe is in the street. We then headed to St Lucia where we overnighted and took a hippo and crocodile tour. It was a nice break from work and a great chance to see more South African countryside and a ton of animals.