After a frenzied 56 games in 19 days spread over 10 venues, the World Cup's paused for breath. Normal services resume on Friday.
It takes a while to get used to the sudden lull and a media centre here that's so empty that it looks even bigger than it is. By the time you adjust, the whirligig called the World Cup is up and running again. And that means a resumption of whistle-stop visits to cities and stadia, each unique in its assortment of fans, their colours and songs.
They were there at Johannesburg's Oliver Tambo International Airport, bound either for here or Cape Town. Some also for home like the two young men in white England shirts. The business class on the flight here from Johannesburg had mostly passengers “going home to catch a quarterfinal” and those in light brown jackets of Brazil's Globo TV.
From the sea --- a refreshing sight after 22 days in and around land-locked Gauteng --- to the lack of traffic gridlocks, Port Elizabeth is everything Johannesburg isn't. Home stays, not hotels, seem the preferred option here as people have upgraded their lodgings anticipating visitors.
Till the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium came along, this old city in Eastern Cape didn't have a top-class football venue. “It wasn't there in school in my time. I am learning about the game now,” said Heine, a retired police detective who now bides time by driving people around.
On Wednesday, the white petalled stadium, by the North End lake, seemed like a solar system away from the World Cup. By Friday morning, it will be heaving with shouts of ‘hup, hup Holland’ and ‘Viva Brasil’.
Like at the past five finals, the octet remaining isn't without surprises. Only this time there are more than one. If Sengal were the jokers in the pack in 2002, Ukraine four years later, Croatia in 1998 and Cameroon in 1990, this time the first-times club has Paraguay and Ghana. Uruguay haven't come this far since 1970, Spain not since 2002 and the Netherlands since 1998.
The quarterfinals are also about unheralded coaches. Milovan Rajevac, Gerardo Martino and Oscar Tabarez have stayed on while Marcello Lippi, Raymond Domenech, Fabio Capello, Ottmar Hitzfeld went home. And that's not all. Diego Maradona is building a reputation as coach and though Dunga's been around longer, he has never coached at a World Cup.
Established coaches like Joachim Loew, Vicente del Bosque and Bert van Marwijk are a minority here.
From the first round when Spain were Swiss-knived and the Africans disappointed, the surprises have continued. Quietly, even Japan and South Korea made a point here, notching up their first wins and second-round berths on foreign land.
South Korea beat Greece, drew with Nigeria and went down narrowly to Uruguay. And who would have thought Japan would stun Cameroon, outplay Denmark and come within a whisker of a quarterfinal berth.
Will the surprises continue? By Friday, we will get an idea.