CAPE TOWN, South Africa -- There they sat in the stands, the villains. It was easy to pick them out in Green Point Stadium on Tuesday night, even from a distance, and even though they were vastly outnumbered. They were the small pockets of light blue amid the bubbling, heaving bright orange sea. They were the Uruguayans.
There was never much of a chance that the demographic distribution among fans at a World Cup semifinal between the Netherlands and Uruguay in Cape Town would have played out any differently. Not when the Netherlands has a population that is nearly five times larger than that of their South American counterparts -- 16.5 million to 3.5 million, approximately. Not when KLM operates a daily non-stop flight between Amsterdam-Schiphol Airport and Cape Town International -- board at 10:25 AM, sit there for eleven and a half hours and you're there -- while the journey from Montevideo is an altogether longer and pricier affair, involving connections and long layovers in Buenos Aires and Sao Paolo and such. And not, most of all, when South Africa has been the home to people of Dutch extraction for more than three-and-a-half centuries -- there are now about three million Afrikaners living here -- whereas you'd have trouble filling a braai with South Africans of Uruguayan descent.
Uruguay might have attracted some additional casual supporters -- or at least some fans who wouldn't have very much minded had they won, as they were the tournament's only remaining underdog (something like 66 to 1 heading in) and the only non-European-power at that -- if not for the way by which it prevailed in last Friday's quarterfinal match against Ghana. It wasn't just that they eliminated Africa's last hope. It was that they did it in a way that everyone here classifies, unquestionably, as cheating, even though many foreigners (including myself and my colleague
(I found, in fact, just one contingent of non-Uruguayans who was pulling for Uruguay: a group of people who entered the stadium with Iranian flags draped over their shoulders. "We are supporting Uruguay because they won the first World Cup, in 1930," said one of them,
Still, the Uruguayans who were in attendance were not apologetic, in their words or in their bearing. "We are legally in the semifinals," said
Holland fans felt comfortable, too, buoyed by their numbers -- and they wore orange jumpsuits, orange scarves, orange wigs, orange ties and a variety of other orange paraphernalia, thereby proving once and for all that neon orange does not look particularly appealing next to light blue -- and by the team they had drawn as their opponent. "We're actually quite happy playing Uruguay," said
As the game wore on, there remained little doubt as to which side was favored in the stadium, even as the Uruguayans desperately waved their flags and beat their drums. When Holland captain
When it was over, after a final minute that was tenser than expected because of