22 June 2010
After three disappointing draws, Cape Town got the wake-up call it had been waiting for on Monday as Portugal thrilled a 63 644-strong Green Point Stadium crowd with a seven-goal sizzler. For seven-year-old Tanzeel Gamieldien, however, the highlight of the match came before kick-off.
When Gamieldien walked onto the pitch hand-in-hand with Portugal’s captain, Cristiano Ronaldo, he instantly became the envy of seven-year-olds the world over.
“When I get back to school I will tell my friends that my holiday was great, especially when I walked into the stadium with Ronaldo,” said Gamieldien. “I don’t think they will believe me though!
“Ronaldo was very relaxed in the tunnel before the game, and even went and hugged one of the boys who started to cry when he saw him,” Gamieldien added.
His friend, Jayden Rose, made sure that his moment in history was well documented. “My mother already called to say that they showed more of me on television than any of the other children,” said the 10-year-old, who held the hand of Tiago, scorer of two of Portugal’s goals on Monday. “I will watch it as soon as I get home, as my uncle recorded it.”
Chilambo Seyuba was proud to be one of six girls who had the opportunity to be part of the excitement. “Inside the tunnel I just stared at Ronaldo, because we weren’t allowed to move,” said the 10-year-old, who seemed to know that this was the kind of experience that doesn’t come round every day. “I am so excited to be here and to have been given this opportunity.”
Gamieldien, Rose and Seyuba are among more than 1 400 young South African and international children between the ages of six and 10 who are being given the opportunity to escort players onto the pitch during the 2010 Fifa World Cup as part of the McDonald’s Player Escort programme.
But they were far from the only children in the stadium on Monday, as parents made the most of the five-week-long school holidays to travel from around the country to cheer the hugely supported Portuguese team on.
Portugal’s road-trip warriors
Portugal has no shortage of local support in South Africa, with an estimated 300 000 to 500 000 South Africans of Portuguese descent living in the country.
Among them is Patricia Vieira, 25, who is on a road trip with her entire family, including her three-month-old baby, tailing the Portuguese team around South Africa.
Standing outside the hotel where the team was staying ahead of their previous match, against Cote D’Ivoire in Nelson Mandela Bay/Port Elizabeth, Vieira joked: “We are like stalkers … We have to support our team. They represent our roots – so we have to give them moral support while they are in South Africa, to get them to the finals.”
Vieira’s father, Fernando, said they had done the 1 200km trek from their home in Pretoria to reach Nelson Mandela Bay in time for the match – and a sneak preview of the players at pre-game training. “After going back to Pretoria we will drive down to Durban to watch them fight it out against Brazil. That is going to be an epic battle,” he said.
“Football mad” family, the Segura-Sanchezes, were also staring hopefully at the hotel room windows. “We are supporting Spain and Portgual over the World Cup, and we are so lucky Portugal is playing here,” said mom Ingrid Segura-Sanchez. “It’s so different to see games live and local. There’s a special vibe about it.”
For Jaydon Segura-Sanchez, 10, the movement of a curtain was enough to shout out, “I think I saw Ronaldo” – prompting everyone around him to chant “Ronaldo! Ronaldo!” and to blow their vuvuzelas.
“The players are up there taking pictures of us down here, thinking we are mad coming out in the freezing cold like this,” said Patricia Vieira. “Maybe we are mad – mad about them!”