A story as good as this really deserved a happier ending: Zoran Zivlak’s daredevil trip to South Africa for the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ rates both as unique and extraordinary. The 50-year-old Serb flew into Cape Town for the start of the tournament with baggage comprising little more than his bicycle and his national flag. He came to support his nation’s footballing elite, spearheaded by world-class defender Nemanja Vidic – and his plan was to pursue them around the vast nation on two wheels.
"I’m a former triathlete, a huge fan of all sports, and I’m a geography teacher. I really can’t think of anything better than pursuing all my passions at the same time, by travelling from city to city by bike, and watching all Serbia’s matches, cheering them on far from home,” a grinning Zivlak explained to FIFA.com in Port Elizabeth. This was the day before his heroes famously beat three-time world champions Germany, which would become the sporting highlight of the audacious trip.
Leaving Pretoria and Port Elizabeth behind him, Zivlak pedalled off to Nelspruit, to complete the set of all three Serbia fixtures. He covered some 2,500 kilometres on his trusty bike. "I’m really proud about following my team like this. And at the moments when I feel a bit lonely, I just look at my Serbia flag. It's been signed by all my friends and family members." An unmistakeable figure with his striking beard and long hair tied back into a ponytail, Zivlak comes across as anything but a loner. Fans from all corners of the globe have learned of his quest, and he has been stopped time and again to take questions and pose for snaps with folk impressed and amazed by his odyssey.
I really can’t think of anything better than pursuing all my passions at the same time, by travelling from city to city by bike, and watching all Serbia’s matches, cheering them on far from home.
However, the South African leg of Zivlak’s vacation ended earlier than planned, after Serbia lost 2-1 to Australia in their final group match. That, combined with a 1-0 opening day defeat to Ghana, meant an exit after the group stage. "I'm disappointed. But as always, our expectations were higher than our capacity to deliver,” the bearded biker told FIFA.com in a farewell e-mail before departing South Africa. He now thinks one of Brazil or Argentina will claim the famous trophy.
However, Zivlak's summer holiday with a difference is far from over. He has pushed on from Nelspruit towards the north, with the next major destination Nairobi. Zivlak will then fly from the Kenyan capital to Istanbul in Turkey.
But why Istanbul? Sport, of course. On 28 August, the city on the Bosphorus hosts the opening match of the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2010, and Serbia are contenders for the crown. The cycling supporter then intends to travel on to Ankara and Kayseri, where he is hoping to see his compatriots excel further. Given that Serbia are ranked fifth in the world in basketball, there could still be a happy ending for Zivlak after all.