Spending a month in Spain the summer before my senior year of high school was a life-changing experience: it instilled in me a life-long love in Spain that, obviously, has had quite an impact on my life. Not only did I realize my love for Spain that summer, but I also learned just how utterly fabulous watching soccer, or football for you non-Americans, is in Europe. Simply put, there’s nothing like it.
That was the summer of 2006, and the world had gone crazy with World Cup madness. Unfortunately, Spain was eliminated before I arrived in the country, but I was able to watch other teams’ matches after arriving, which were a blast. But I wasn’t prepared for the insanity of the championship game.
A few other members of my travel group and I found a suitable bar by Granada’s cathedral, which quickly filled until it was packed shoulder to shoulder with hardcore fans of Italy and France’s national teams. As a last-minute decision, we decided to support Italy, painted our faces with the Italian flag, and yelled along with national cheers. After 90 long minutes of scoreless play followed by a 30-minute overtime, the game, still at 0-0 even after Zinedine Zidane’s infamous headbutt, went into shootouts. If you’ve ever watched a soccer game, you know that there’s nothing quite as gripping as shootouts between two top-ranked teams, so imagine watching that amid a thick crowd of hundreds of nervous football die-hards. Insanity.
The crowd held its breath as Italy took its last shot, knowing a goal would make the trophy theirs. The ball went in, and the crowd immediately exploded. Whether you had been supporting France or Italy, you couldn’t help but get swept up in the excitement.
We jumped, yelled, and cried along with the crowd and then made our way to our much beloved Granada gelatería, Los Italianos (appropriate, no?), and spent the evening watching fans sprint down the street with Italian flags waving behind them, gleefully sing Italian songs, and splash around fountains. I had never seen anything like it, and from that moment on, I was completely hooked on European soccer.