Saturday, September 22, 2007

Off to Hangzhou

Once again, thanks to everyone for your continued support!

When are we leaving and how long will we be gone?
We left for Hangzhou at about 2:30 on the afternoon on Tuesday. We threw or jacket over our heads and rushed through the pouring rain on to the bus scheduled to take us to the train station, on the direct, high-speed train. I glanced out the window to say good-bye to the onlookers when Sonia rushed over and waved us back into the lobby. There she explained the latest development – Typhoon Wipha would be delaying our match by a day - however we would still be leaving immediately. Of course our first thought was, “do I have enough clothes (read: undergarments)”

Jen had been waiting in the lobby to bid Kari and her crew farewell and also found out that her match would be delayed by a day and moved to Hangzhou. An hour later at the debriefing session, Jen and her crew found out that they would be leaving the hotel in less than an hour to travel by train to Hangzhou on the last train that evening.

Traveling at Speed
Hangzhou is only about 200km from Shanghai, so traveling by train is an excellent way to go; especially in a Typhoon. Both groups (on separate trains) were led by the local guide. Adrianna (Kari’s 4th official) had been to Hangzhou three times, so she was an expert. We navigated the station with ease. The train took us through the Chinese countryside, but with the rain it was hard to see. We traveled at about 175kph and arrived in only an hour.

Fun in Hangzhou
Given that the matches had been postponed for a day, we had an entire free day ahead of us in Hangzhou. Our hotel was located across the street from West Lake, a very tranquil setting. However, after an evening of pouring rain and more rain and humidity on its way, we started the day with an indoor activity. The local organizing committee shuttled us to the Hangzhou Silk Mart. We learned all about silk – how it is manufactured by hand and how to determine if it is real. Did you know that real silk is flame resistant and burns cold?

We spent a couple of hours shopping in the silk mart prior to returning to the hotel.

After lunch in the hotel, we spent a good portion of the afternoon walking around the West Lake. The park was originally the home of a famous Chinese poet and throughout the park we were able to see many tributes to his work. Because of the rain and impending storm, there were not many visitors at the lake so we were fortunate to have some tranquil time.

Later in the afternoon, we returned to the hotel for a work-out in the gym. We were planning to watch the other matches on the television at 5pm and 8pm. However, at 5pm, we could not find the match on the television so we went to the FIFA office to see if they had access to the broadcast. We then found out that the two matches had also been postponed only a few hours earlier. So Kari and Jen ventured out once again in the rain to do some sightseeing.

Game Day
As a group, we started with Breakfast around 8:15am. We hurried along in order to be ready for our local guides who had a “plan” for us from 9-11am. We all agreed that sitting in the hotel all day was not the best way to get us in our optimal stated of mind. With 2 world cup vans and our local guides all seven of us set off for the Hangzhou countryside. Our bus ride ended at the Dragon Well Green Tea “plantation”. Here we learned about making and drinking green tea. Of course we all purchased something and took photos – typical of referees.

Norway vs. Ghana
The first match of the day was Norway vs. Ghana. Jen’s referee team met for their pre-game meeting at the hotel prior to lunch. The referee team left for the stadium 2 hours prior to kick-off. We arrived at the stadium, inspected the field and started preparing for the match. We were greeted by Mr. Angel Maria Villa Llona, the Chairman of the FIFA Referee Committee who was in attendance for both matches. He came to the locker room to wish us well. The match was originally scheduled for Shanghai so there were not many fans in attendance. Ghana had already been eliminated from the play-offs, but that did not discourage their spirit. Their fans were cheering them on with song and dance. There were many combinations which would allow Norway to advance, but to guarantee a place in the play-offs, Norway wanted a win. The match ended 7-2 in favor of Norway so Norway was guaranteed a place in the play-offs. The match was played with a good spirit, a tribute to the spirit of the Women’s World Cup. After the match, we finished our paperwork and then went to the VIP tribune to watch the second match, Brazil vs. Denmark.

Brazil vs. Denmark
In Kari’s own words:

Knowing that the Brazil vs. Denmark match was a critical match, with a win by Denmark necessary to stay in the tournament, I wanted to make sure that I was in the most positive frame of mind, in order to be ready for anything.

Keys for me were:
1. An upbeat walk around the beautiful West Lake, listening to inspiring music
2. A light massage to wake up the legs
3. Lunch with my team
4. Pre-game meeting
5. Relaxation and game visualization

43,000 fans were in the stadium eagerly cheering on Brazil. A win by Brazil and in the simultaneous match a win by China, meant team China would go through to the quarterfinals. Needless to say, the China supporters were extremely enthusiastic. Early in the second half, I was 1,000% concentrated on the match and despite the announcement being made in Chinese - I knew that China had scored on New Zealand – the crowd erupted! It was awesome. And they didn’t quiet down from there.

The Brazil vs. Denmark match proved to be a wonderful display of technical skill and speed. With some simple man management by the referee crew, the teams settled in and played a great game of football. Only 2 cards were needed in the match to keep things in order. The Danes fought hard, but in the end they could not beat Brazil’s attacking and individually skillful game at a final score of 1-0.

The greatest aspiration for a referee is to officiate a game which is considered safe, exciting (good football) and fair. At the end of the match I received a wonderful complement from #9 of Denmark. She touched my arm and said, “It is a pleasure to work with a good referee”. If the loosing team plays their heart out and feels they got a “fair shake” then we have done our job.

What an honor and a privilege to have officiated this match.