Yesterday I drove the short distance to the City of Coventry Stadium to see Japan play Canada and Sweden play South Africa in the women's football. There was a real sense of occasion and perhaps much of the negativty surrounding the Olympics has at last been overcome, although the stadium was far from full with an attendance of 15,210.
The pitch announcer appeared to be the guy from the ice hockey and some of the tactics that work in a rink ('can I hear you Block 3'?) did not work in a far from full stadium where many people had a poor command of English. Goal announcements were very delayed and used the 'Goal scored Player No.8' formula.
We were surrounded by Japanese fans chanting 'Nippon'. Some women were in traditional dress, while one man had his face painted white and was wearing what looked like a clown outfit. Clearly there was a cultural meaning here that was lost on me.
When the Japanese team ran on to the pitch they were so diminutive that at first I thought they were mascots. The Canadians were so massive that they could have played for Sheffield Wednesday, but the authoritative Finnish referee made it clear that she would stand for no nonsense in the sauna like conditions.
The Japanese were compared into the programme to Barcelona. Whilst this was something of an exaggeration, they passed and kept possession very well and were also good at finding one of their players with long balls. Not surprisingly, they were 2-0 up at half time, although one of these goals involved a mix up in the Canadian defence. The Canadians stepped up a gear and got a goal back in the second half but Japan were deserved 2-1 winners.
One nice touch was that the Japanese team came and bowed deeply to their fans after the game. In contrast the Swedish keeper warmed up by dancing to the tannoy music when they came out early for the second half.
The City of Coventry stadium excelled itself in the break between the two matches. When I arrived I was told there was no water, only coca cola (this week's Private Eye covers shows two armed policemen saying 'Put that can of pepsi down and you won't be harmed'). The nearest outlet had no pies and the next one had no vegetarian option for my wife.
We were surrounded by Swedish flags and blondes for the next game. It was soon evident that the Swedes combined athleticism and skill and the South Africans were no match for them. They were 3-0 down in 20 minutes, the last goal coming after a defensive mix up. The South Africans pulled one back with an outrageous chip over the goalkeeper who was off her line, but the final score was 4-1. As the Swedish lady next to me commented, though she was pleased to see her team win, the first game had been more interesting as it was less one sided. The South African fans dancing in the stands were a delight to watch.
Men's football, Belarus versus New Zealand, tonight.
Good news that Yann Kermorgant has signed an extension of his Charlton contract to 2014.