Johannesburg, Pretoria, Sandton, all of those surrounding areas ... everything is all about the World Cup. I landed this morning (JNB time) around 8:15 a.m. The first thing you notice is how decorated the airport is; walking in the international terminal, you were greeted with 2010 FIFA everything: ads, graphics, vendors, directions for where to go if you're a fan, where to go if you're with FIFA -- all signs pointing towards the World Cup.
Despite the 15-hour flight (I caught up on movies: Invictus, Crazy Heart, Goal 2), I managed to take a video of the entrance into the main terminal. It was overrun with people. And it's still a week before the World Cup opens. Despite worries, everything was efficient: customs, rental car, baggage, hotel. Every radio station was talking about the World Cup and every billboard on the highway referred to the upcoming tournament.
Things are pretty spread out here. The U.S. team is training in Pretoria, but held its press conference today at a place called Irene Farm, between Johannesburg and Pretoria. Irene Farm was, actually, a farm. It was beautiful and quaint (you can check out a video of the place in the same place as the JNB airport video) -- and ice cream and food. The U.S.'s press conference, which included Bob Bradley, Marcus Hahnemann, and Clint Dempsey, took place in a large white tent at the base of a green field and next to an actual barn. A collection of security force guarded the area.
The U.S. team trains today and tomorrow at 3:45 local time; and then plays its final exhibition match against Australia on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. local time. Today's press conference covered the preparation for the Australia match, a little bit about the England match (June 12), and a good amount on the new World Cup soccer ball, which is produced by Adidas and named the "Jabulani". Basically, plenty of players have criticized the ball, which includes technology that makes it the most aerodynamic ball, the "roundest" ball ever made. The designer of the ball, though, stood his ground. You can read that here: Jabulani.
Here's what the U.S. had to say about it:
GK Marcus Hahnemann: "Balls are supposed to bend and balls are supposed to knuckle. You have no spin on it, it's supposed to knuckle; if you have spin, it's supposed to bend. This ball, you have no idea what's going to happen with it. Sometimes you bend it and sometimes it bends, sometimes it goes the other way ... it's a nightmare for us. It not only moves for us, but for guys attacking the ball on crosses. The idea is to score more goals, so people can shoot from 40 yards and have a chance of it going in, but to me, that's not good soccer ... you're going to see no headers on goal because nobody can judge anything."
Bob Bradley: "The ball is new, it takes some getting used to. It also needs to be said that whenever you play at altitude -- regardless of a ball -- when you begin training you try to just, it takes a couple of days just to get used to the way the ball flies. The ball certainly takes off more, it does affect, again, spin, and that kind of thing. I would say the combination of the new ball -- and we all know the technology they put into it these days is to make it lively -- and of course the game being at altitude."
Clint Dempsey: "The altitude does affect the ball. I think you're going to see a lot of goals. Me, personally, I like the ball because if you hit it just right, you don't even have to hit it as hard as you can. If you just hit it solid you can cause problems for the goalie ... if you get it just a little bit wrong, you can end up looking pretty silly. Just focusing a little bit more. I enjoy the ball."
Hahnemann's reply to those replies: "Technology is not everything. Scientists came up with the atom bomb, doesn't mean we should have invented it."