Monday, July 10, 2006

My Cup Runneth Over

When I lived in Italy, I used to sit on the balcony of my apartment and just watch the children play soccer in the courtyard below me. Their play was joyous and buoyant. They had no proper field or goals but that didn't stop them from channeling their heroes and creating a rivalry for the ages out of thin air. It was as if my pitiful cheering somehow morphed into the roar of thousands of fans.

I bought them a soccer ball once. It was smooth and shiny and I wanted to replace their old, half-inflated, gnarled ball. Coming home the next day, I stumbled across the ball I'd given them. It was beaten, nicked and bruised. It looked little better than the one it replaced. At first I was disappointed. I'd hoped they'd take better care of it. And then I realized that every gouge, every scrape, every nick was a sign of their love for the ball, their sport, and my gift. To have sat off to the side, glistening new and unused, would have been the insult.

You'd think that their infectious love of European football would have caught on with me. And while soccer certainly held a higher profile in my mind from that time forward, it wasn't until I moved back to America and met my wife that soccer became an every-day part of my life. Marrying a rabid defensive sweeper who plays weekly will do that for you.

I'd never watched World Cup soccer before. For the last five weeks it’s almost all I’ve done. Be it in my own living room, others’ dens, a resort lounge, a pub--wherever a TV could be found, we were watching. And I began to understand just what it is about the game that so enthralls the entire world, other than my own myopic country.

The stamina and athleticism is second to none. The ball control borders on telekinesis. The grace is superlative. The tension, majestic. The acting, Oscar-caliber.

I loved watching teams like Ghana, who in the eyes of many shouldn't have even been there in the first place, battle their way to wins over far superior forces. I loved watching America hit the field valiantly but realize very quickly that it will be decades, if ever, before we are able to seriously compete. I loved watching the German fans give their home team a close-out welcome that would have made any onlooker think they’d won it all. I loved being witness to the shocking surprises that inevitably arise such as dominant favorite Brazil humbled or soccer celebrity Zinedine Zidane’s self-destruction.

And of course, I loved watching the final match between the two deserving titans, France and Italy. Suddenly the Berlin Olympic stadium melted away and I was once again up there, on that balcony. Bodies surged, spun and dove. Foreign voices punctuated the air. People cheered. This time the bodies were larger, the field far greener and the ball always immaculate, but in my eyes they were still just my neighborhood kids slugging it out.

I don’t recall that those kids ever really kept score. At the end of the night, when their mothers called them home, they all left the field winners. Kind of like tonight.

Congratulations Italia! You are the World Cup Champions! Fantastico!


Blogger Grinth said...


Considering they can thank the refs for sneaking past Australia and the fact they are under investigation for point shaving I say down with Italy!

.....oh and the fact that I am french has nothing to do with it hehe =).

1:07 AM  
Anonymous Nate said...

I find it hard to follow the nuances of soccer on the field, but I made it a point to watch the final match, what with it being the best match-up I could ask for after America being knocked out: The lovely Italians vs. The Villainous French. (Sorry French readers! But it's just sports. The Yankees play the same role here, believe me.)

So Nate saw the result, and Nate was glad of it. There are some things about the game that bug me though: the diving, the low scoring, the overly weighted nature towards defense, the games ended on shootouts; the nature of shootouts themselves, with goalies having to make an arbitrary choice to go right or left and hope for the best.

But still, I didn't like baseball was a kid, swore up and down I could never watch it, found it the most boring thing ever, and watched nothing but football, which I found intricate, tactical, and fast moving. Oh how my preferences have changed, drastically, and they may change again.

I'm all about head butts though. More of those, please.

6:47 PM  
Blogger Justin said...

I can vouch for some of the Australian angst in NYC. Watched the game do down in a pub in the East Village. Until next time...

12:48 PM  

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