"Cook intercepts a pass at midfield and streaks down the right flank. They've got a two-on-one! He fakes the pass and launches a shot on>"/>
"Cook intercepts a pass at midfield and streaks down the right flank. They've got a two-on-one! He fakes the pass and launches a shot on net. The goalkeeper gets a hand on it, but it squirts out front. Fontana takes it, fakes left, and buries it home. The crowd goes wild!"
NO, THIS WASN'T some World Cup-induced daydream. This really did happen—well, except for the part about a crowd going wild. I play in an indoor soccer league every week, and tonight's game was something special. It was the beginning of an all-night soccer odyssey in celebration of the biggest sporting event on the planet.
During the past two World Cups, I happily found myself unemployed and so watched every game of both. This year, however, gainful employment and a 13-hour time difference have conspired against my commitment. I've seen plenty of games, but most of them on tape. Some friends and I watched the U.S. team's stunning victory over Portugal a couple of hours after it actually occurred, but it felt dishonest. I need to make amends. I need to make sacrifices. I need soccer ALL NIGHT LONG.
I choose Thursday night for the project because it's the night of the most anticipated match of the first round, England vs. Argentina. Arena Sports, the home of my indoor league, has converted its day-care area into a massive TV lounge (sorry, kids) equipped with a 15-foot screen. I decide to put it to use for the first World Cup game of the night, Nigeria vs. Sweden, which kicks off at 11:30 p.m. The volume is so loud that my teammates and I can barely converse, but we are able to determine that announcer Giorgio Chinaglia sounds an awful lot like Jon Voight in the film classic Anaconda.
In the course of world history, I wonder, have Nigeria and Sweden ever had anything to do with one another? Probably not, but both have talented teams at the moment. Nigeria's first goal is on a clinically executed header (followed by a septuple somersault from the goal scorer and a quick camera pan to a large Nigerian man wearing a bra). The game ends around 1:30, and I feel great. I'm not even going to have any caffeine tonight; I will survive on love of the game alone.
Next, I drive to the George & Dragon in Fremont for Game 2, Spain vs. Paraguay. I arrive a little past 2 a.m. The crowd of about 40 (38 of whom are men) seems to be predominantly pro-Spain. Paraguay takes an early lead, but the supporters don't seem worried. They're wise—Spain wakes from its siesta at halftime. The match's main source of intrigue is supposed to be the return of Paraguay's fiery goalkeeper, Jose Luis Chilavert, from a two-game suspension. Chilavert is built more like a relief pitcher than a soccer player, and as he allows the decisive goal, he plays the ball as if he were a relief pitcher. Thankfully another narrative emerges. What color are Paraguay's uniforms? Pink? Tangerine? Nude? Finally, in the game's 68th minute, one of the announcers proclaims that they look "sorta like baby formula."
Around 3:30 a.m., the crowd starts trickling in for the main event. Lots have England jerseys; only one guy boldly dons Argentinean gear. Some sing a bit, the atmosphere livens, but there is no evidence of hooliganism—not yet anyway. I'm currently reading a book about Ben Franklin, and I'm vaguely annoyed with the British right now (damn you, General Howe!). I find Argentina's proclivity for histrionics and awful hair really annoying, though, so I decide to go with the flow and be staunch in support of our erstwhile overlords. Besides, I like England's team.
The rivalry between the two countries—for reasons soccer-related and otherwise—is real. When Argentine forward Gabriel Batistuta receives a yellow card early in the game, an Englishman in front of me starts yelling "dirty fuck-eh" loudly. An interesting thing happens soon after, though. An Argentine player gets his nose bloodied, but there isn't a single hoot or holler hurled. It's great watching the game in a room packed with people who are passionate about the sport, and even better that they are so respectful of it. It really is a beautiful game—I'm again reminded of how great a shame it is that more people in this country don't care.
England, of course, wins. (Almost) everyone is happy. I'm officially tired now; my notes from the second half of the game are impossible to decipher.
"Campbell sends a long ball into the corner. Fontana chases it down, splits the Brazilian defenders, and sends a brilliant cross to Owen. He takes it off his chest, turns, and boots into the upper corner. The crowd goes wild!"