Dutch, Japanese made it a delightful day


(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).

Durban, South Africa –

June 19, 2010

Follow-up from the Dutch invasion of Durban…

The beaches of Durban turned into mini- Amsterdam as the Dutch painted the city orange before beating a surprisingly competitive Japan, 1-0.

I had a chance to see it live and it was the best atmosphere yet.  Not the best game, but an enjoyable one nonetheless.

I knew we were in for a treat when I read in the morning paper that thousands of Dutch fans were camping in nearby Durban and they planned to meet at the FanFest and walk the beach promenade to the game.  In addition, Japanese supporters stepped up big-time and were able to do what no other country could…drown out the vuvuzela’s with their cheering.

The result was a spirited stadium which had the feeling of a Halloween party and a game which was close enough to keep things interesting.  While many countries try hard to have a good time, the Dutch just do it.  It seems to come naturally for them.

Like their first game, the Dutch fans were happy with the result, but not enamored with their performance.  They have high standards for their team, and while their voetbal was skillful and entertaining, they can play better.  I haven’t had the privilege of seeing the Dutch team play live that often, so it was a real treat.  I won’t bore you with my analysis of the game … if the Dutch have peaked early only to crash out of previous events, you get the impression that there is more in store for them this time around. 

I will say it was great to see the individual players and the qualities they brought to the game, even if their collective effort needs to improve.  I follow the EPL on a weekly basis, so it was nice to see van Persie (so much taller in person) even if he was largely ineffective, and Kuyt (what a fighter) live in the flesh.

Sneijder brings a confidence (almost arrogance) which pushes the team forward and van Bommel is an absolute terrier.  In some ways, he appeared to be the glue to the Dutch team, at least on the day.  Van Bronckhorst, the captain, looked to get involved from his left back position and at times played like a wide midfielder or even winger.  Van der Vaart surprised me with his fighting spirit, as I’ve always known him to be the No.10, but he engaged himself in the dirty work too.  The game certainly missed Robben, who is nursing a hamstring injury and hopefully will be available later to display his artistry.

Japan played a solid game and kept it interesting until the final whistle.  We sat next to a “Japanese Ultra” group who were the life of the stadium.  For the first time in three live games, I could barely hear the vuvus.

Their experience was the exact opposite from the Dutch, as they were bummed with the result but happy with the performance, as heading into the game, they were not confident taking on a team with the reputation of the Dutch.  Many of the Japanese reporters and TV crews are staying at my hotel, and they said everyone was proud of the team but disappointed that they didn’t tie or win.

I was invited into the Sony hospitality tent which was a great experience.  Sony does a wonderful job of welcoming their guests and looks after them the entire time.  Starting with a special breakfast in the morning at the Sony headquarters hotel, providing a stadium shuttle, access to the hospitality tent before and after the game, which has an array of drinks and delicious food, World Cup gifts for all of the guests and of course great seats in the stadium.  The guests range from high level Sony employees (and occasionally Sony entertainers) to contest winners (there were two Dutch winners) who were treated to a World Cup experience and obviously with Sony being based in Japan, about 95 percent of the group were cheering for Japan.

All in all, due to the massive Dutch and Japanese crowds, the game day experience was the best yet, even if the actual game didn’t measure to the excitement of the 4-0 Germany win.

Up next for me is Nigeria vs. South Korea, which lacks any global appeal, but may end up being a barnburner…that is the beauty of this World Cup, you just never know.