For this weeks game Jen and I headed off to Mpumalanga and the match at Nelspruit between the Black Aces and Ajax Cape Town. It’s a three hour drive or so from Bronkhorstpruit and it took us up into a picturesque part of the country.
We’d hoped to see a few waterfalls and other sights, but with the fog and the mist the best we managed over the weekend was a couple of hours at Pilgrim’s Rest, a small town popular as a coach trip destination for old age pensioners who like to buy mass-produced Chinese tat.
Nelspruit got itself a new stadium for the World Cup. The Mbombela Stadium, as it’s known, is the one with the Zebra pattern on the seats. I had a look at the list of the four games that were played there but didn‘t remember any of them. Oh well. Maybe that’s more a reflection on my memory than the quality of the games. Perhaps it wont be long before I’ll be on the bus trips to buy ‘hand carved‘ tribal masks.
Mbombela is a good ground though, with a forty thousand capacity and no running track. We’d bought our tickets in advance online for forty rand. Not that we needed to as the crowd peaked at about a thousand. I wonder how much of a legacy the World Cup has left? It’s fine having these new stadiums but if people aren’t going to turn up then what’s the point?
I’ve read that the stadium has been used for rugby as well, but at the one game of egg chasing that we‘ve been to over here there were only around a thousand people at that too. It’s hard to argue with the notion that the original Nelspruit stadium was all that the town had ever needed.
And so what else caught my eye? Well, Ajax had a Finnish keeper, Anssi Jaakola, if that’s of any interest. He recently had a spell at Kilmarnock and before that had turned out at Siena with Boro legend Massimo Maccarone.
Jaakola didn’t have much to do in the first half, with probably his only chance to shine coming when he punched a shot away just before the interval. Meanwhile his team mates rarely threatened the opposition and stealing the Ajax name was as close as they got to Total Football.
The second half saw a bit more pressure from the Black Aces with their striker Elliot Khenyeza going close on a couple of occasions. He just didn’t quite have the pace to lose the last defender, although as his shorts came down to below his knees I think it may very well have been poor aerodynamics that was costing him that extra yard.
The home side had a few penalty shouts as the game went on. I didn’t think any of them actually were penalties but I was expecting the ref to eventually award one as a result of the cumulative appeals. He didn’t though, resisting the pressure or chickening out, depending on your allegiance.
All that was left was for the Finnish fella to make a couple of fine saves at the death and that was it. A goalless draw, but an enjoyable game nevertheless.