By Matt O'Leary
I landed in Cape Town yesterday and it is a world apart from the JohannesburgPretoria area. It is a picturesque city overlooking the Atlantic Ocean with the beautiful Table Mountain and 12 Apostles cliffs in the backdrop. Cape Towns newly constructed Green Point Stadium sits just below the scenic Signal Hill and is located only a few hundred yards back from the waterfront. Green Point Stadium was hosting its fourth match of the tournament and it welcomed Group G rivals Portugal and Korea DPR to the African continents most southern city.
Sunday had been a day of bright sunshine and cloudless skies but Monday felt like a winter morning in San Francisco. Fog and mist covered the city and the nearby Table Mountain, and a heavy rain set in for much of the morning leading up to the 1:30pm kickoff. The rain had slowed on our drive in and we parked in a coffee shops private lot about a mile from the stadium. Cape Town was the first of the five stadiums I have visited that has had any bars or restaurants close to the stadium. Local police had blocked off a 20-yard wide segment of one of the citys main streets for the fans to walk on towards the stadium. This street was lined with stall after stall serving food, merchandise, coffee, biltong, all sorts of things. This has been a traditional set up on walks to stadiums in previous World Cups and even in domestic leagues matches but it was the first of this sort that we had seen in South Africa.
Maybe the rain dampened the Portuguese fans spirits but there was no singing or atmosphere leading up to the stadium. It seemed like we were walking towards the stadium with a bunch of neutrals, but once inside there was much more Portugal support than anything else. I was able to spot the 100 North Korean fans that had been photographed so frequently at their first match against Brazil. They were sitting across the stadium from me, wearing their matching red sweatshirts and pants and constantly waving their miniature North Korean flags.
I cannot confirm if this is true or not but the South African newspapers reported that the North Korean fans at the Brazil game had been hired by their government to come to South Africa. The newspaper reported that the group was comprised of Chinese actors, as well as Chinese citizens that had been bribed with a paid trip to South Africa if they would attend the games dressed and behaving in an identical manner. Hard to say if this rumor is true or not, but there was a greater number of North Korea fans at this game than the small group that saw them play against Brazil in Johannesburg.
Enough about its fans, on to the match where North Korea proved themselves second best. The match started brightly with both sides having a goal attempt in the first six minutes. It could even be argued that for the first 20 minutes Korea DPR was creating more going forward. It looked to be a fairly even game and then the Portuguese cracked the Korean defense with a perfectly weighted through ball that Raul Merieles latched onto and slotted past the goalkeeper. After that, Portugal dominated the last 15 minutes but failed to score again before halftime.
There was still a sense of concern surrounding the Portuguese fans at halftime; knowing that a high goal difference mattered in Group G and that their team had not been clinical enough in front of goal so far. Portugal, captained by Ronaldo, started the second half confidently and soon found themselves 2 goals to the good in the 53rd minute. From there, the floodgates opened and you could see the North Korean heads dropping. Once the third goal went in a few minutes later, the North Koreans looked completely deflated and I could tell that the Portuguese were heading for 5 or 6. Well the number ended up being 7 and the goals were scored by six different Portuguese players, a statistic that will do wonders for their confidence. The team played the ball around with ease in the second half, and although they were playing against a poor team, they did look fluent in their communication and passing and showed themselves to be a difficult team to contain offensively.
After being touted as the team that could be the heavy casualty of Group G's "group of death", Portugal could now beat Brazil and advance to the knockout round as group winners.