Mamelodi Sundowns v Ajax Cape Town, Saturday 16th May 2015, 3pm

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I’d seen games at all of the 2010 World Cup stadiums bar one, although at two of them it was rugby rather than football. The Nelson Mandela Bay stadium in Port Elizabeth was the missing entry on my list and so the decision to host the 2015 Nedbank Cup Final there turned out to be a pleasant surprise.

On the plane.

On the plane.

I should have seen a game at the stadium a couple of months earlier and had gone as far as booking an afternoon off work, flights and a hotel to coincide with a Friday evening Chippa United game. However, as so often happens the date was changed shortly before it was due to take place and whilst we had a nice enough weekend in Port Elizabeth, we didn’t see any football.

We did get to spend some time in Addo Elephant Park on that previous visit and it was good enough for us  to want to do the same again this time. The decision was made easy by the memories of a lion sauntering along the road past our car.

Too close to fit the photo.

Too close to fit the photo.

We also stumbled across a herd, or multiple herds, of elephants that had to be close to one hundred and fifty strong. We’ve seen big herds in various National Parks in the past, but nothing to that extent.

I suppose it is an elephant park.

I suppose it is an elephant park.

On that first visit we also did some hiking in an area of the park that had no animals with big teeth. It had plenty of spiders though and as we were the first people on the Zuurberg Trail that morning we unwittingly broke numerous webs with our faces.

Just as well it didn't have big teeth.

Just as well it didn’t have big teeth.

The highlight of Addo Elephant Park second time around was getting extremely close to some elephants. Close enough that if anything had gone wrong we’d have been the latest wildlife-related mishap to have featured in the Darwin Awards.

On one occasion we were parked next to dense undergrowth and we could hear the elephants eating their way through it until they emerged a few feet ahead of us. A little further along the track I pulled up just before a path crossed the road and waited for the elephant walking along it to cross in front of us. I held my breath as it paused within touching distance of the car as if to consider whether to flip us into a ditch.

There wasn't much dispute over Right of Way.

There wasn’t much dispute over Right of Way.

And so to the match. The Chiefs and Pirates had both been knocked out of the Nedbank Cup in the quarter-finals, opening the door to Mamelodi Sundowns and Ajax Cape Town. We had a bit of excitement on the way to the ground when the car behind drove into us. There was minimal damage to our hire car and with the rear bumper easily pushed back into position we shook hands and left it at that.

As we spoke to people on the way to the stadium I was amazed at the number of fans of the Chiefs and Pirates that were at the game. They were temporarily supporting Ajax in the hope that the Sundowns wouldn’t pick up a trophy. It seemed all too bitter to me. Whilst I’d prefer Newcastle or Sunderland not to win anything I doubt I’d go to the trouble of turning up and cheering for their opposition. Unless, of course, the opposition was us.

On the way in.

On the way in.

We had posh eighty rand (four quid) seats in the tunnel side stand, but there looked to be just as much room and a good enough view from the forty rand general admission areas elsewhere. It was cold though and I looked enviously at the people who had picked up free scarfs on the way in.

The more vocal of the fans were in the stand opposite to us with the Sundowns supporters taking up positions closer to the pitch whilst those from Cape Town were further up towards the back.

No segregation necessary.

No segregation necessary.

It was a fairly even game with both teams limiting the amount of decent chances on offer and it was goalless at the ninety minute mark. As a freezing cold neutral I’d have been happy with a last minute winner for either side, but it wasn’t to be.

View to the left.

View to the left.

Extra-time brought little difference and as we neared the final whistle both teams seemed content to play for penalties.

Some rare goalmouth action.

Some rare goalmouth action.

It all looked to be going well for Ajax in the shoot-out with, if I remember rightly, them being 3-1 ahead with just two penalties remaining for each side. Defeat for the Sundowns was so close that the Pirates fan next to me got me in a bear hug and kissed me. I was grateful for the warmth and appreciated the lack of tongues.

Hat of the Day.

Hat of the Day.

As so often happens though, the big team wins. Ajax missed their remaining two chances to seal the victory and Sundowns drew level before clinching the trophy in the sudden death penalty phase. The fella next to me had slunk away at 3-3, no doubt to avoid the prospect of being kissed by any of the celebrating Sundowns fans.

 

 

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