Dispatches from a Casual World Cup Observer: June 30 – July 1, 2014

Tim Howard, a portrait

Tim Howard, a portrait

The 2014 FIFA World Cup is here, and I have a novice’s degree of knowledge as to what’s happening, as well as a small amount of sentimentality for the event. This is me traversing through work, drunken weekends, and Spotify with the World Cup either in the fore or background

Monday, June 30th

I wasn’t really interested in how France – Nigeria, or Algeria versus Germany for that matter, was going to play out. It seemed inconceivable to think that the two African teams would be able to put up a fight against two European powers that were at the top of their rank. So I ignored the matches, which were mostly scoreless affairs until the final minutes. There were plenty of moments when Karim Benzema and Thomas Müller could have knocked in shots to put their opponents in utter despair but some cosmic force was unwilling to give these two teams an easy victory. France would ultimately run away with the game in the final minutes while Germany required extra time in order to advance. Based on both performances, I would say that both teams acted a little entitled throughout the entirety. It would have been interesting if Nigeria and Algeria would have scored, and I wasn’t in the middle of closing financial reports, but, alas, such is life.

The rest of my day would be spent pouring over the various waffle jokes thrown at Belgium as well as Waffle House’s campaign to smear Belgian breakfast. I also ran through Twitter to look at anything riotous that had happened in the crowd stands while I was inserting sum functions. This was the first thing that appeared:

AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH

This child, this wunderkind, screaming out all the energy his young lungs could muster. His stare could kill any grown adult and his intensity could level an entire city block. I could not stop laughing as the vine continued to loop on the boy with the modified sound. It reminded me of a drunk Baby Herman from Roger Rabbit. It was spectacular and it was brilliant.

Soccer fans, in general, have been some of the most entertaining people I have had the chance of witnessing. I am already a sucker for fan reactions and random happenings within large crowds of people. So in place of a recap of two games I barely was able to watch, let’s break down some of the best reactions from fellow World Cup observers thus far:

#5: Adios Spana

This guy encapsulates how South America feels about Europe. He also might not be using the Spanish language correctly, however we will let that slide. He is the smiling, happy face that summarizes the world’s attitude towards Spain reign on international soccer.

#4: Sad English Shrek

The English have struggled in international play. Their pain has resulted in some English born patriots to root for their allies across the pond. The man above is in so much self-doubt and despair that he, a grown man, has brought a Shrek doll with him. He is unhappy, he is desperate, he is English football.

#3: Sharks Stay Biting

Uruguay was thrashed by a Colombian team that is re-writing history right now. The Celeste had a bit of hope with Luis Suarez but now that he’s banned and looking towards transfer rumors, Colombian fans had a little fun at Uruguay’s expense.

#2: Let’s Put a Smile On That Face

The arena was packed with Brazilian fans. So much so that there you could distinguish a tiny swath that was seated behind the Brazilian goal amongst a sea of gold. When Alexis Sanchez scored to equalize the match, this section erupted. A camera panned through the roaring fans until it found the one fan who, for some reason, was dressed as the Joker from Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight. This fan stood out in particular because of the salute that he was giving to those Brazilian fans who outnumbered him. A bold choice but when you’re dressed like the Joker at a soccer game, you’re bound to have a few screws loose.

#1: Wunderkind

This child. This simulatenously adorable, intense, passionate, horrifying, primal being. There is only one thing I can think of now when the Germans play the French, and it is this fan who looks like his scream could level a building.

Tuesday, July 1st

I was in the corporate headquarters of Belk Department Stores watching a scoreless game. My fists were clenched, my heart rate was high and I could feel my stomach tie itself into a million knots. There were people around me with their laptops, finishing up the last bit of a day’s work as the United States failed to find any offensive rhythm. Belgium would get the ball and people looked up from their work to bite their nails. The room would groan and sigh with each Tim Howard save. You could cut the tension with a knife.

This was an opportunity to advance into the quarter finals for the first time since 2002. If we won, it was on to face the Cult of Albiceleste, who won their game with a Angel Di Santa late goal against the Swiss. If we lost, well, that sucks. But also, as I have mentioned in previous posts, winning would stave off the people who feel some type of way about soccer.

It seemed everyone in the room was waiting for extra time in order for America to get one more chance to regroup and think of a brilliant offensive strategy. Then, in the final minutes of stoppage time, the ball landed at the feet of Chris Wondolowski, who was just substituted in just minutes before by Klinsmann. Belgium’s goalkeeper, Thibaut Courtois, lunged his body towards the Wondolowski as he wound back his foot to kick the ball. With only several feet in between Wondolowski and an American victory, he drove his right leg into the ball. Yet, fate had other plans. The ball ricocheted off of the goalie and led to a Klinsmann reaction that, in so many words, says “so close” .

When regulation finished, it seemed like America was on the ropes with Romelu Lukaku pressing down the field. There were constant strikes from Lukaku and Kevin De Bruyne with a frustrated Howard trying to fend for his life until he no longer could. De Bruyne opened the flood gates in extra time with a goal that Howard could not reach. It seemed it was destiny that America would be ousted. But, after America tried equalizing in extra time, Lukaku pounded a goal home that gave the Belgians a two point advantage. It was over. Or, at least I thought.

I left the Belk corporate headquarters with Anna, who invited me to her office to watch, as we walked away thinking America only had two more minutes and some stoppage time to try to make up the deficit. When I got in my car, I received one of the annoying Twitter notifications that people who I follow were talking about the US Men’s National Team. I thought people were sending their ‘thank you’ and ‘good job, good effort’ mentions. It turns out that the second fifteen minute period of extra time is also played despite the fact that the Belgians were up 2-0 at the end of the first fifteen minute period. An error in understanding which disallowed me from seeing Julian Green’s late heroics. I had to watch the rest of it play out on Twitter in between red lights. In the end, the score was in favor of Belgium by 2-1 after a laughable one minute of stoppage time. This was the demise of America in the World Cup. It was memorable, it was “never say die”, it was going out in a blaze of glory. This was probably the most American way you could lose and it couldn’t have been any better.

All of the USMNT’s games were incredibly exciting to watch as much as they raised my levels of my anxiety. And, it was a great reminder, of the collective experience of sports that we can all consume around our local watering hole, or living room television, or even a projection screen in the middle of a corporate building. It was all a thrilling ride, and it’s sad to see us leave. At least the World Cup will still be around to provide plenty of great moments, it just sucks that this team won’t be around to try and best Argentina.

 

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