So here we are… the day of semi finals.
Only four days to go which is so obvious and at the forefront of my mind at the moment. Although I have great friends at home I know I will have to say goodbye to a different set of amazing people who I have spent the past three weeks going on an adventure and journey with.
The first game was Japan v South Korea. I was glad to be working again. All the major Asian broadcasters were out in force. I had always predicted that the winners of this tie would be the Asian Cup winners of 2011.
The past two days have been days off but anything but. The first was spent sightseeing where I spent the morning with a girl from Jordan being shown places that I had already explored but with local knowledge the sights became much more real. The afternoon was spent driving through the desert countryside to the Saudi border. Yesterday entailed editing and editing and editing. In a previous life I would have spent 2 hours looking over a light box putting out of focus negatives in the trash – and then I would have got a great tan by the pool.
With modern technology I am going to return home white but have 500 travel and feature images captioned up on my archive ready to sell.
This was a big game. Well it was to me. I adore my Asian football and you can’t get any bigger than South Korea v Japan.
The Japan fans almost resembled Manchester United fans at a semi final. They kind of knew that they were going to win and were just that little bit less excited than the fans from the opposition.
With this in mind I concentrated on South Korean fans.
To be honest unless I saw something exceptional, I have so many pictures of Japan fans that I would not go bankrupt should I not add to my collection. Some of the South Korean girls were utterly gorgeous, though there were a few bad apples that on average made Japan the winners in the good-looking fans competition.
Park was making his 100th appearance.
I was on the look out for something to depict his big day.
Perhaps I peaked before a ball was kicked. I quite liked the image I captured of him holding the pennant given to him by the opposition captain.
The game started off well for me.
Park won a penalty and I captured the resulting goal OK.
After that my luck drained away.
Japan got it back to 1-1. It was only looking at the stadium scoreboard screen that made me realise the happenings of the goal. Once again I was blocked.
The game was frantic, with pace and excitement. For the poor photographer however, trying to capture split second moments to document what was before me, as the game went on it got harder and harder.
Park again was brilliant. I have grown to like him more and more out of his Manchester United surroundings.
Son Hueng-Min who applies his trade in Hamburg came on late in the second half. My eyes were full of Euros as I waited patiently for him to be involved in some action with Shinji Kagawa who plays for the mighty Borussia Dortmund.
However more living proof that I was Hitler in a previous life as the opportunity to grace the pages of German publications with my pictures was taken away as Kagawa was substituted.
The ref put the game to an end which meant only one thing… Extra Time.
Japan went into the lead, I was happy. Japan became stronger and at 2-1 they seemed to be worthy winners.
Manchester United’s Park left the field. I had just scraped over the line in producing enough material to satisfy anyone wanting pictures of him.
It may have been an epic fixture, but for the poor photographer it was just not happening. Son Heung-Min ran everywhere, except down my lens and the most dramatic event happened down the other end of the pitch.
With one minute to go South Korea scored. A typical Asian goal. Germany would never have scored such a goal against England or Italy but slight mistakes made by one team which are capitalised by the other makes a more exciting game. It was 2-2.
Regardless of my bad 120 minutes, being positive, I am nearly there when playing the throw-in game. Uchida did some throw-ins and my practice nearly paid off with me achieving the picture of the player doing the throw in on the far side of the frame with the ball on the other. Very hard to achieve landscape, at the moment seemingly impossible to achieve upright!
Penalties it was.
In doing tournaments all the time I am used to penalties. Some photographers fail by not realising where the score stands and anticipating that next kick wins if the goalie fails to stop the ball from entering the net. I have made so many mistakes, it is untrue but penalties are easy now!
South Korea were terrible. Missing ALL their kicks. Japan cruised through.
With Son Hueng-Min balling his eyes out, tears flowing like oil coming out of a BP pipe under the sea with team mates and indeed Japanese players trying to block up the flow, I sent these pictures to Germany before getting the bus to the second semi final.
The transport people insisted that the busses run to schedule despite our polite protests. We had a 20 minute wait. To be fair the organisation has been very good. However with a little more realisation it could be immense.
Eventually we departed. En route I edited some of the game. I got into the stadium with 38 minutes gone. Aussie were 2-0 up against Uzbekistan.
I spent the second half with my converter on my 400mm lens. A big mistake. Nothing was as near as sharp enough for my liking – especially compared to when I use the 600mm.
I am in two minds to bury my converter the next time I am out of the city and in the desert. I don’t see the point of taking it back home.
If Australia could not get a six in the cricket, they certainly could on the soccer field. They wiped out any hope Uzbekistan had of causing a shock, even though most journalists secretly thought that they were the dark horses of the competition.
Uzbekistan 0-6 Australia.
The day was rounded off by more vine leaves, rice, chicken and some vegetables. I then said my goodbyes and headed back to my hotel transfixed by a green newspaper from Kuwait that I found.
Watching Blackpool go 2-0 up against Manchester United only to lose 2-3, I finished knowing that I still had another good hour of processing images the next morning.
I end the blog like I started it.
Although my last two days have been football free, yesterday was spent editing nearly all day whilst the previous day seeing me venture into Doha once more and snapping more sights.
I spent all day yesterday alone. Perhaps that is why I enjoyed today as much in mixing with the people I know and admire so much.
This is not like a trip to say Germany where I know I will return again very soon.
I have really warmed to Qatar but in all sincerity have no idea when I will next be here.
I’m already starting to miss my Far East Asian colleagues even though I have not departed for home yet.
I will soon be sat at Everton or Stoke surrounded by another set of photographers – equal friends, yes – but once again the seemingly double life that I lead results into one simple fact that I just have to accept that I have or am having a thoroughly enjoyable time but like everything in life, it is going to have to come to an end.
I can hear Shinji’s amazing Japanese tones on Skype, see Koo’s smile on Skype but I’ll miss laughing and joking at the people I only recognise – although I have known them for years, I still do not know their names or who they work for.
Most of my adventures are a result of driving and discovering. The last World Cup was satisfying my soul with music as I drove countless hours for days upon days breaking off to cover a game!
This has been a journey most certainly, but more so than the World Cup. This experience has entailed spending lots of time with amazing photographers whom I am lucky enough to call my friends. It’s not the same when it only lasts 2 weeks, when it goes into three it gets more special.
For the record the final will be Japan v Australia under those amazing floodlights in the Khalifa Stadium. Before then another trip to my favorite stadium, Al Sadd for the 3/4 place match, Uzbekistan v South Korea.