Even on a South African beach it looked like a goal

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).

June 18, 2010

DURBAN, South Africa –

U.S. game an emotional roller coaster…

I watched most of the game at the beachfront FanPark with approximately 75-100 Americans mixed into a crowd of roughly 500, many of which had American flags, uniforms and their faces painted. I joined the Renkin family from Sonoma County and four boys from my hometown of Sebastopol. It was great to experience the game with familiar faces.

I had a meeting and arrived late and the score was 1-0, Slovenia. Immediately after I arrived, Slovenia scored again much to the dismay of the U.S. crowd which had gathered at the front of the FanPark.

Everyone was depressed at the half. The Cup appeared to be over for the U.S. England fans nearby were rubbing it in. It really didn’t look promising. But, as we Americans tend to do, we started trying to rally the energy and talking about getting an early second-half goal to get back in the game.

Donovan’s early goal was just what we needed to believe again. The crowd absolutely erupted, jumping up and down in the sand, rushing the massive TV screen and chanting and hollering U-S-A. People who never met were hugging and high-fiving, and the U.S. squad was back in the game.

After we scored the tying goal, it was even more jubilation.

YES WE CAN erupted from the crowd, over and over.

USA – USA!

I personally ran a little loop in front of the English fans, giving them a little taste of their own medicine. For the remainder of the game, every American there was cheering with great intensity, almost as if we were in the stadium and our efforts were going to make the difference.

When we scored the go-ahead goal, which was a thing of beauty, we celebrated like we had won the World Cup.

You could tell that everyone in the crowd who wasn’t from the U.S. was secretly wishing for a moment like this with their country. Down 0-2, we suddenly led 3-2…or so we thought.

After the goal was called back, we all stared in disbelief as we watched the replay, which only solidified in our minds that it was an amazing goal.

We were robbed and had we not felt good about coming back from two goals down, we may have ripped up the TV screen and thrown it into the Indian Ocean.

The game ended and we hung out with mixed emotions. Happy that we battled back to tie the game but frustrated that the goal was called back. And, optimistic that we still had a fighting chance to advance.

Netherlands vs. Japan next…

I will have a chance to attend the game (4:30 a.m. PDT, Saturday, ESPN), and as a big Dutch fan, I am super-excited.

Today, I spent about an hour with Babak Milani, who is a top reporter for the German Bild newspaper, which is the equivalent of a USA TODAY – a national daily paper.

Speaking of Germany, it is amazing how quickly they went from the talk of the tournament to being in a must-win situation. It can be a cruel tournament.

Anyway, Babak’s job is to cover the Dutch team. He spent the morning at their training. It was interesting to speak with him about soccer in the U.S. as well as covering the Dutch team.

He will follow them through the entire World Cup and knows many of the players as he also is a reporter for HSV, which is Hamburg’s top club team and features many Dutch players.

It is these experiences, whether it be speaking with a South African taxi driver or one of Germany’s top soccer reporters, that I enjoy about the World Cup. And, of course the games.

South Africans continue to make a positive impression…

My first impression was very positive, but they continue to impress me at every turn. I find the South Africans I have interacted with (taxi drivers, hotel staff, shop owners, waiters, business colleagues, etc) all to be very welcoming and helpful.

Durban reminds me a lot of the Bay Area, where for the most part, people have a positive outlook on life. It must have something to do with the coast and the sunshine. I’m not saying there aren’t problems, and today for the first time I found myself, just a few blocks from where all of the journalists and fans are staying, that made me uneasy.

However, everyone involved in the World Cup is working hard to make their guests stay as enjoyable as possible, which is much appreciated.