Football Station


Tim Howard’s South Africa Diary

Courtesy of FoxSoccer…

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Tim Howard’s South Africa Diary

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The World Cup has been everything I expected, and more.

I’ve been so incredibly impressed with the way South Africa has rallied together. When I’ve come here the past couple of years I’ve done the things you come here to do. I’ve done the safaris, I went to Soweto, and I‘ve done all the sightseeing things, but to really see all the African people embrace the World Cup, it’s been a really cool experience. To see what this means to them is something else. It’s corporate in a lot of ways, but it’s also about the heart of the people and their passion for soccer.

Tim Howard reflects on his time in South Africa.

From an off-the-field standpoint, the place where we’re staying, the morale, the guys, the group, it has been one hundred percent perfect. We’re enjoying ourselves. It’s been a long time being away, but with all the games on, and all of us huddled around the TV watching all the games, we’ve had a chance to really bond.

It’s different from (the 2006 World Cup at) Germany in the sense that, logistically speaking, the hotels and the families and where they’re all staying is different, and we’re on our own. It’s not like staying in the downtown city center (in Hamburg), where you can just put your sunglasses on, walk out and go shopping. It’s more of a training camp mentality. We’re here, bunkered in, we enjoy our meals and enjoy our training, and to a certain extent, for better of worse, we’re a lot more focused. There’s not a lot of external things going on. There’s a lot fewer distractions. The guys are playing FIFA, a few of the boys are out and fishing in the lake, there are poker games, we’re watching a lot of the games. Our schedule is pretty straightforward. It’s broken up pretty well because we’ve got a workout session in the morning, then lunch, then we rest. After that we’ve got training in the afternoon. There’s downtime, but there’s enough to keep us active.

This team, with the additions that were made just prior to the World Cup, is probably one of the better teams I’ve been on in terms of no egos, really good guys, guys who are eager and hungry and ready to work. All the really good things you can say about guys on the team has been that way.

It’s a very young group, but sometimes with that it can go either way. They see it as their chance to shine, they internalize it, they get greedy and start acting a certain way and take it as a negative thing. We haven’t had that with this group. The younger guys who have come into this group have been gung ho for this team and do anything they can. Not just on the field, but off the field, and it’s been awesome.

I’ve watched quite a few World Cup games, just like everybody else. I’ve been pulling particularly for the Everton guys in the group. Holland, Nigeria, South Africa and Australia are really the ones I’ve been focused on, but I’ve watched every game and it’s been a pretty incredible World Cup because you just don’t know who’s going to win each game.

One of the toughest moments was seeing Tim Cahill get a red card. I was devastated for him. I spoke to him afterward. He was

Cahill sees red in the Socceroos' opener with Germany.

beside himself, couldn’t figure out why or how he got the red. He’s someone I’ve grown close with and we’ve talked about this for years, and throughout the build-up, so I know what it meant to him so it was tough.

Looking back at the England game, we really felt good about what we could accomplish in that game. Beforehand, guys weren’t scared. Guys weren’t nervous, they were ready for it. We fought back from a goal down and played a good game against a very good team in a game I know people had been waiting months to see.

What a lot of people remember about that game is my injury. I didn’t know what the next day would bring, but I was going to give myself every shot to play against Slovenia. When I spoke to the trainers, they told me when it’s a rib injury it’s something you’re going to feel for a few weeks, so once I knew that it was about figuring out how to manage it.

The next morning was crazy. I kept trying to roll over in the middle of the night and it was nearly impossible. I had to stay on my left side. It wasn’t a surprise. I knew it was going to be bad but you deal with it. I was definitely in pain, but I just tried to take as many pain meds as I could to deal with it. It wasn’t the first time this season where I had to deal with something like that. With Everton late in the year, I had a back injury late in the year that had me thinking for the first time in a long time that I might have to come out of the game. It rocked me so bad that I was literally laid flat on my back in bed the next morning and I called from my phone on the night stand and told the team I couldn’t physically make it to practice. Walking down the stairs, walking to the stairs – it was a joke. I was dragging my feet. It was terrible. I couldn’t stand up straight. I was struggling. But I still played the next game because I don’t like missing games.

It was a special game, and for me, it was my first World Cup game. I try not to let my mind wander in those moments, like during the national anthem, but it’s hard not to when you’re playing in your first World Cup and the anthem comes on. I just tried not getting caught up in it, but there were a few moments like that.

We went into the Slovenia game with a lot of confidence, but to go down early the way we did was tough. In the second half, instinct took over. Our backs were literally against the wall. We were 45 minutes from our World Cup basically being over. The way we responded was great, and it gives us a lot of confidence going into the Algeria match.

The muggings at Ellis Park Stadium.

At this level, when you go down in any game 2-0, and you get back to level, you have to feel fortunate. We would love to win, and we would have loved for that (third) goal to stand in order to assure ourselves of a spot in the second round. The other side of that is that we were down two goals and we came back, we‘re still fighting and we still have a chance, so we have to keep it in perspective.

As far as the call on Maurice Edu’s goal, initially we were upset by it because it’s natural to be emotional after the game, but very quickly we re-focused on and had to put it behind us. I certainly understand it from a fans perspective that it’s not something you’re going to forget easily. We realize that we still have it all to play for, and if we win on Wednesday, we’ll qualify.

The crowd was great for the Slovenia match. I’ve played 50-something times for the (United States) and not once do I remember a whole, entire national anthem sung by the whole crowd. When they played the anthem and we were singing, it was being sung back at us, and it was a pretty incredible moment.

We’ve been in games where we’ve needed to win the game and it’s been a big game and big occasion. All we need is that win, just like last year (against Egypt in the Confederations Cup). The Egypt game is in recent memory, but you can go back to the Gold Cup final in 2007, that was a must-win, and the Confederations Cup semifinal was also a must-win. We’ve got that experience and it can only help us.

The experience at this World Cup has been even more special because my parents and brother have been here to enjoy it and experience it with me. When it comes to youth soccer in America, families have to give up a lot. Most other siblings have to sacrifice because you’re driving around to tournaments all over the country. Moms and dads have to sacrifice and drop everything they’re doing on the weekends. That’s how you spend most of your weekends for a good part of your youth. On the road, in hotels, playing in youth soccer tournaments, so it’s really special to have them all come and enjoy this experience and kind of be in the ultimate and the pinnacle of the sport. From all those days traveling around New Jersey, and up and down the East Coast, to youth soccer tournaments. It almost feels like it all paid off.

– Tim Howard

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