Photographers' Blog

Samurais in South Africa

I arrived in South Africa with the Japan team filled with excitement and an acute feeling of anxiety. Never mind that I would be on the scene to cover the world’s biggest sporting event, and never mind that I would be competing against the top sports photographers from around the globe to get the best pictures. For a Reuters photographer like myself dedicated to a single team, when your team drops out of the competition, you’re finished. Like the defeated team, you go back to the hotel, pack your bags and spend the long flight home wondering what went wrong. Based on Japan’s lackluster showing in the East Asia Soccer Championship my expectation for Japan was three defeats in a row and no victories. Mine would be a short stay in South Africa.

A Japanese boy living in South Africa reacts as he watches Japan's national soccer team depart from South Africa at O.R. Tambo airport in Johannesburg June 30, 2010. REUTERS/Toru Hanai

But during Japan’s first match against Cameroon the Samurai Blue seemed to transform themselves in front of my eyes with Keisuke Honda’s goal being the catalyst. Japan was defeated by the Netherlands in their second match but the Samurais demonstrated the unity of the team in their performance and they were victorious against Denmark in their third match. In doing so they completely wiped out the image that I held of the Japan team before going into the competition. I was covering the world’s biggest sporting event, and I was going up against the top sports photographers, but in this World Cup Japan’s victory meant that the formidable teams of France and Italy and the even more formidable photographers accompanying them were going home. Not me.

Japan's Shinji Okazaki hugs Keisuke Honda (18) as they celebrate their victory against Denmark after their 2010 World Cup Group E soccer match at Royal Bafokeng stadium in Rustenburg June 24, 2010. REUTERS/Toru Hanai

On June 29, 2010, Japan faced Paraguay in World Cup match 55. Even after extra time the game remained scoreless and a penalty shoot-out would determine the outcome. I moved into position according to the instructions of Chief Photographer UK and Ireland Dylan Martinez, the leader of the Reuters photographers for this match.

A penalty shoot-out is all about luck. The psychologically intense method of deciding a match seems especially hard on the players, but it’s just as tough on the photographers with a split second making the difference between front pages around the world or a postage stamp-sized picture on page S15. Both the players and the photographers tuned out the screaming of the crowd and focused with tense stillness on the battle between the penalty kicker and the goalkeeper. My position was on the opposite side of the pitch allowing me to see the face of the goalkeeper. Japan’s goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima, who had saved many shots up to then, clearly showed the strain. Following the two successful shots by both teams it was Yuichi Komano, Japan’s third kicker’s turn.

Japan's Yuichi Komano hits the crossbar during a penalty shootout in their 2010 World Cup second round soccer match against Paraguay at Loftus Versfeld stadium in Pretoria June 29, 2010. REUTERS/Toru Hanai

At the instant he powerfully kicked the ball toward the goal I pressed my camera’s shutter button reflexively. For a fraction of a second my view through the viewfinder was blocked as the camera captured the picture and prevented me from seeing whether he had scored or not. The next moment I saw Komano holding his head in his hands. Japan’s World Cup team’s and my time in South Africa had ended.

Looking ahead to England vs Germany

Photographers Dylan Martinez and Kai Pfaffenbach discuss what they expect from Sunday’s World Cup match between England and Germany.

Fans, fire and fury

Fenerbahce’s hopes of winning the Turkish league title for the 18th time were all resting on the final round of games in the 2009-2010 Super League. Expectations among their fans were high, with the major Istanbul club knowing a win at home against Trabzonspor was enough to clinch the championship.

Second-placed Bursaspor were one point behind Fenerbahce on 72 points and faced the tough prospect of a match against last year’s champions Besiktas. Some 50,000 Fenerbahce fans wearing navy blue and yellow jerseys took their seats at the Sukru Saracoglu stadium with their attention focused more on celebrating their imminent title triumph than on watching the game.

Fenerbahce's Daniel Guiza of Spain celebrates scoring a goal against Trabzonspor during their Turkish Super League soccer match at Sukru Saracoglu stadium in Istanbul May 16, 2010. REUTERS/Murad Sezer

Spanish striker Daniel Guiza scored the opening goal in the 14th minute, but nine minutes later Trabzonspor equalized with a goal from Burak Yilmaz. The first half ended 1-1. Even at that stage, Fenerbahce fans were very confident of victory. There was an atmosphere of celebration in the stadium. In the second half Fenerbahce played more attacking football.

Broken man on the pitch

From Nigel Roddis

Arsenal vs Stoke City, Saturday February 27.

It was a game that wasn’t going to plan. Stoke took the lead but Arsenal in the second half started putting on the pressure with wave after wave of brilliant football. It was only a matter of time, you felt, until they scored a winner. Way over the halfway line, frantic gestures were coming from first a Stoke player and then Arsenal players and the referee which meant something very serious had happened.

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I could see Arsenal’s Aaron Ramsey partially obscured by a Stoke player in agony with his ankle at a right-angle to his leg. The first frame I took was the best as his expression said everything. After that he seems to have gone into shock as he doesn’t seem to be in pain.

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Next, I was looking to get Ramsey and Stoke City’s Ryan Shawcross, who tackled him, in the same frame. Shawcross was sent off and then walked towards the tunnel where I was. I’ve never seen a player in 20 years of covering football so distressed. He was in a flood of tears and I think it will take him some time to get over what happened.

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow…?

Snow. Looks good on those Christmas cards, doesn’t it? Fun for small children. Even nice for penguins in the zoo. But photographers covering soccer? Brrrrrrrrrr. Not really.

Let’s get one thing straight. We Brits go on about the weather like a stuck record, but when it comes to it, we can’t cope with it. That’s why we live in Britain.

We whinge when the mercury drops to -3 (26 degrees Fahrenheit). A colleague of mine in Canada will point out that’s not cold. Cold, proper cold, can’t feel your fingers, just walked into a fridge cold, is -25 (-13 degrees Fahrenheit).

South African grannies’ got game

South African grannies catch World Cup feverBy Ndundu SitholeTZANEEN, South Africa (Reuters) – World Cup fever has spread to South African grannies, with hundreds of poor, elderly women in aprons and skirts fighting for the ball in township games.Twice a week they swap domestic chores for football, donning soccer boots instead of their usual rubber sandals to play in local matches.The 35 women on the Vakhegula Vakhegula squad — meaning ‘Grannies’ in the local Xitsonga dialect — range from 40 to more than 80 years old and live in a township near Tzaneen, 600 kms north of Johannesburg.Competition is fierce among the eight teams in the region and the women say soccer is the best exercise, much better than their usual manual work at home and in the fields.”I like to play soccer because it helps us. We were sick, but now our temperatures, our blood pressures…have gone down …even our doctors are amazed when we go for a check-up,” said 47-year-old Nari Baloyi, one of the youngest on the team.Nora Makhubela has suffered six strokes yet the 83-year-old great-grandmother said kicking a ball around had given her strength she did not think she still had.”My life has really changed…if I were to run with you I would beat you even though I’m much older,” she said, smiling.NEW PURPOSEMakhubela dreams of being around long enough to watch the one-month World Cup finals in South Africa starting on June 11 next year.”I pray every day to God to keep me alive until 2010. I would really love to watch the games,” she told Reuters.The team have proposed playing a curtain raiser before one of the first-round World Cup matches and said national soccer authorities had told them they would consider the idea.Community worker Beka Ntsanwisi said she started the team three years ago to help older women exercise all their limbs and to give them a new purpose in life.”Some of them couldn’t even walk properly and if they did something in their free time they would be knitting or sewing and sitting all the time…here they run, shout, fight with you…it keeps them young,” she said.Coach David Maake said working with the women had given him greater satisfaction than any other coaching job.”With young boys you need more money to achieve many things…here, I may come with my stress…but I will laugh so much until I forget everything,” he said.NOISY TRUMPETSThe team lacks proper funding, with each woman pitching in around $1 a month for soccer balls, kit and travel to their bi-annual competitions with teams from other regions.Ntsanwisi, who uses her own money to help fund the teams, hopes one day to attract sponsors.Dozens of local fans support the grannies’ games, cheering and blowing vuvuzelas — noisy, plastic trumpets that create a cacophony of noise that is unique to South African soccer.”I feel good when the (grannies) play soccer so that they can be fit and strong,” said 13-year-old Chamelius Bayani.Winning seems secondary. Some of the grannies look as if they are struggling to keep going during a game after a long day of housework.Most come to practice straight from cleaning their houses and cooking meals or after selling food along the township’s streets.Missing a practice is unheard of, however, they say.”I was too fat…now I can run and teach my grand-kids how to kick. I feel great,” Baloyi said.

from Left field:

Sports picture of the day

Split seconds count in sports photography. Reuters Sports Pictures editor Greg Bos thinks London-based photographer Eddie Keogh captured the moment perfectly when former Arsenal captain William Gallas went head over heels to the ground during an FA Cup match.

CAPTION: Arsenal's William Gallas (top) challenges Cardiff City's Jay Bothroyd during their FA Cup fourth round replay soccer match at the Emirates Stadium in London February 16, 2009. REUTERS/ Eddie Keogh (BRITAIN)

from Left field:

Sports picture of the day

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We're back with another picture of the day, and this time Sports Pictures Editor Greg Bos has chosen a frame from the Copa Libertadores, South American soccer's version of the Champions League. Greg writes:

I like this picture because of its colour and shape - a simple, but eye-catching, illustration of football fans in Argentina sandwiched between two giant colourful flags.

ORIGINAL CAPTION: Fans of San Lorenzo de Almagro display giant flags as they cheer their team during their Copa Libertadores soccer match against San Luis in Buenos Aires, February 11, 2009. Marcos Brindicci/REUTERS/(ARGENTINA)

from Left field:

Sports picture of the day: David Beckham

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To celebrate the launch of the new sports blog we're reviving a feature from View from the Bird's Nest and posting a picture of the day from the Reuters file.

Sports Pictures Editor Greg Bos has chosen the first pic, a shot of David Beckham from Spanish photographer Marcelo del Pozo. Over to Greg...

"The reason I like this picture is because of the mildly comical view of David Beckham, aged 32, leading the other England players with a big leg kick during a training session in Seville. He was no doubt aware of all the photographers present and kicked a little higher to get their attention. Like him or loathe him, Beckham is still a constant presence in English football as he closes in on Bobby Moore's record for most caps for an outfield player."