Preambling, the ESPN commentator tells us that this match promises “plenty of charm,” which sounds like the guidebook account of an alpine hamlet time has forgotten, or else one of those real estate euphemisms, like “cozy” or “many period details.” We learn that that today’s referee is an English teacher in a high school near Capetown. We kick off.
New Zealand have some early chances from set pieces ably delivered by their industrious captain, Simon Elliott. But nothing much more happens for the next half an hour. The commentators read off some of their pre-match research: New Zealand are being offered at 400-1; the young Slovak midfielder Valdimir Weiss is the son of the team manager, also Vladimir Weiss, who is the son of a national footballer, also Vladimir Weiss. We learn that some of the Kiwi fans have worn their hotel bathrobes to the Royal Bafokeng Stadium, partly in tribute to the national team (the All Whites), and, we suppose, partly to the game time temperature (46 degrees).
The equivalent of the TV announcer’s recital of pre-match research during an uneventful game is a sort of hypnagogia in the viewer, the richly free-associative state that occurs in the transition into and out of deep sleep. The New Zealand team negotiated a passage to South Africa through the archipelagos of Vanuatu, Fiji, and New Caledonia… this early-morning viewer drifts into a childhood reminiscence about an au pair from Auckland who would prepare healthy dinners for the children when his parents ate out, dishes such as raw spinach saturated in natural yogurt. Then a sudden close-up shot of the head of the Slovakian star, Marek Hamšík, reveals an electrified hairstyle that is neither precisely Jersey Shore nor Dragon Ball Z. We are torn.
Vittek scores for Slovakia in the fiftieth minute from an early cross slicing in from the right. Vladimir Weiss père is wearing a fine pinstriped suit today, with just a hint of sheen to it. Shane Smeltz misses an open header in the box in the eightieth minute, but in the final seconds of the game, he executes a quick turn just outside the area before sending an arcing reverse pass into the box, a sublime pass really, that his teammate Reid converts. 1-1. The overjoyed goalscorer celebrates by tearing off his shirt. In the stands, some of the New Zealand fans reciprocate, whirling their hotel robes high above their heads in the clear winter air.