A Love Affair with International Soccer
The 2014 FIFA World Cup kicks off less than twelve hours from the time I’m writing this, and I can barely contain my excitement. To count down to this year’s tournament (and Spain’s inevitable kickassery!), I’m taking a look back at the international soccer events that make up some of my all-time favorite memories.
The World Cup came to the U.S. in 1994, with matches played just minutes from my house, but, at age five, I barely knew what soccer was and sadly missed out on an opportunity I surely would have gone mad for had I been a few years older. I’m envious of my parents who did attend!
However, five years later, the Women’s National Team was captivating the nation. I had begun playing soccer two years earlier and had gained appreciation for the sport, and there was hardly a young girl alive in America in 1999 who didn’t worship Mia Hamm, Brianna Scurry, Julie Foudy, and the rest of the team. The World Cup championship match was hosted in my hometown of Pasadena, and my mom, grandma, sister, and I witnessed live as the U.S. defeated China in shoot-outs and Brandi Chastain iconically ripped off her shirt in celebration. What an event.
I’m sure I watched World Cup matches in the years in between, but it wasn’t until 2006 that international soccer truly became a passion. I was spending a month in Granada, Spain the summer that, at 17 years old, I fell head over heels in love with the country. Although Spain was eliminated early in the tournament, there was nothing quite like finding typical neighborhood bars to watch the final rounds. Watching the championship game between France and Italy, featuring Zinedine Zidane’s infamous headbutt and ending in shoot-outs, was honestly one of the most exciting moments of my life, as I recapped here.
During the 2008 Euro, my family was in Switzerland for an unforgettable biking and wine tasting tour. The tournament was co-hosted by Switzerland, but we weren’t in the host cities at the time of matches. Although we had a scheduled dinner during the championship game between Spain and Germany, I continuously ran to the hotel’s lobby to catch as much of the match as I could. We moved to a bar for the end of the game, and, proudly sporting my Spain sweatshirt, we watched as Spain won their first major competition since 1964. Afterwards, we took to the streets to witness all the cheering, screaming, and honking of the Spain fans of Switzerland.
I watched the early games of the 2010 World Cup from Spain, proudly supporting La Roja, but sadly returned home before the epic championship game between Spain and the Netherlands. My mom and I watched from a bar in Las Vegas, filled with hardcore fans of both teams, and I screamed my lungs out and practically broke my legs jumping non-stop. This post is already full of superlatives, but I really can’t think of one moment in which I burst with as much uncontainable excitement as the moment when Iniesta scored the winning goal in overtime, bringing Spain its first World Cup title.
In 2011, the U.S. played Chile in a friendly match in Los Angeles. We arrived late and were too busy socializing to watch much more than the last fifteen minutes, but it was still a fantastic experience to see two major international teams compete right in front of us.
For the 2012 Euro, I had the unfortunate luck of, once again, leaving Spain just before the championship game, although I was in Poland, one of the co-hosts, days before the tournament started, and I did get to watch a thrilling match from Sevilla, as I detailed here. I cheered on La Roja from the U.S. for the remaining games, watching Spain take first in the second consecutive UEFA Euro.
Later that year, Spain played France in a World Cup qualifying match in Madrid. Although I had seen Real Madrid play previously in L.A., this was my first time seeing my all-time favorite sports team live. The game ended in a lackluster 1-1 tie, but I’m still so very chuffed that I got to see my favorite team in the world in person.
When I visited my sister in Geneva, Switzerland last summer, my timing was perfect, and we got to see another World Cup qualifying match, this time with Switzerland and Cyprus. Donning red, painting our faces, and shielding ourselves from the rain, we watched Switzerland defeat Cyprus, and my close encounter with the Swiss team means I’ll definitely be cheering for them in this year’s World Cup.
Finally, just a few weeks ago, Australia’s Soceroos (such a silly name for the national team) played the host of the last World Cup, South Africa, in a farewell friendly match in Sydney. The game resulted in a disappointing tie, and Australia played terribly, but there’s nothing like getting dressed up for a game and cheering for your team, especially when that team will be competing in Brazil in less than two days! I do have to say, sorry Australia, but I’ll be cheering for Spain hard when you two compete in the group stage.
Tomorrow morning, my friends and I will be meeting at a bar before work at 6am to watch the first match of this year’s World Cup between Brazil and Croatia. On Sunday, I fly home for two weeks (!!!), and I absolutely cannot wait to watch upcoming games with two of my favorite soccer fans, my mom and sister. Will Spain take home its second consecutive World Cup title? ¡A por ellos!