World Cup Wanderlust

It's here, one of the moments I wait for with eager anticipation every four years.  It's World Cup season.  To tell you the truth, I don't even know why I love World Cup or what ever drew me to soccer.  But after reflecting, I think it's tied to a childhood memory with one of my most favorite people in the world, my "Uncle" Jack.  It was 1994.  I was 12 and spending one of many summers in Dallas, Texas.  The World Cup was being hosted in the USA.  I knew nothing about soccer, but I loved my Uncle Jack, and my Uncle Jack loved soccer.  So soccer we watched.  Dallas was one of the host cities.  He bought me my first World Cup t-shirt.  I loved that thing; I wore it until it was bleached out from being washed so many times.  I remember Marcelo Balboa and his famous bicycle kick.  (I just looked him up, he actually coaches soccer in Colorado these days!)

Fast forward four years later, to 1998.  This was my first trip to France and for those who remember, France did not only host me that year.  I spent the summer not only planting the seed for the life I'm leading today, but to add to the excitement, I cheered with "les Bleues" as France won game after game and advanced to the finals.  My flight home was the day after the final.  But it was in Amsterdam, and there were no trains left to get me there on time.  So my friend Cate and I watched France defeat Brazil with a drunken Frenchman in a Dutch pub.  That was the last straw.  I would no longer be next to the World Cup.  From that moment forward, I wanted to be in it.

When the World Cup was being hosted in South Africa four years ago, I knew I had to go.  It was my chance to check two things off my bucket list - the World Cup and a safari.  We'll save the safari for another day.  And this adventure somehow validated this odd World Cup dream that had developed in my young heart 20 years ago.  (Feels weird to write that any crystal clear memory happened to me 20 years ago...I still feel 20 most days.)  The World Cup is pure energy.  People from all over the world united in excitement that their country has the chance to make them proud - to stand on the world stage and proclaim that they are the best.  Does it make sense?  No.  But I'm not going to question it.  And as for the South Africans, they were amazing.  They were so extremely proud to host the world that they made every effort to make people feel welcome and comfortable.  Their country was simply amazing.  This year's World Cup makes me relive those memories.  And I'm envious of my friends who went and are in Brazil - they are living an incredible experience.

So as I reminisce, here are some of my favorite moments and a very small part of my 2010 World Cup story:

First game at Port Elizabeth.  Uruguay vs. Korea Republic (2-1).

Start of the game and fans hold up their flag.

USA vs. Ghana (1-2).   We watched the game in a tent, and we were a very small minority compared to the Africans.  Though it would've been nice to win, I was happy that the African continent had a team that advanced.

Netherlands advances and plays in Port Elizabeth.  Lucas, who is Dutch, decides to leave the group and stay with his team.  He joins the "Orange Parade", the 2km Dutch fan procession that followed the team wherever it went.  I loved the trademark doubledecker bus that was transported to South Africa for the event.

Excited for Cape Town.  Amazing city and we watch Argentina get defeated by Germany (4-0).  I was wearing blue and was blue at this performance.

Cape Town Stadium by night.

The Germans celebrate.  They are funny those Germans.

The Dutch continue to advance.  I join the "Oranje" movement, and I'm initiated by the Flying Dutchmen.

We march with the orange to the stadium, where Netherlands is playing Uruguay in the semi-final.  In a sweep of amazing luck, we score tickets to the World Cup semi-finals.

I watch the Dutch win from Row 8.  I really like the end of the game when they take their shirts off.

Spain is going to the finals with the Netherlands.  Lucas knows which side he is on.

I've converted to orange.  Though my algorithm usually
favors Latin countries, I'm swept up in the Dutch spirit.  I watch
the final from Johannesburg airport and board the plane before
it's done.  The pilot announces that Spain wins (1-0).  :(
So I hope you're enjoying this World Cup season as I am.  It's been full of energy, excitement and surprises. Do you know who won during my first World Cup in 1994?  Brazil.  And they've been my bet for this one.  Brazil has some of the best fans in the world - how could you not win with an entire country bringing you that much energy and hope?

As for me, my sophisticated algorithm for team selection - time I've lived in a country x perceived attractiveness of the players x ownership of a team jersey/t-shirt = favorite team - has left me without a team.  Last night's France loss to Germany was devastating to me and my Zidane jersey.  But those who wear orange are also some of the best fans in the world, and I still have one T-Shirt left.  We'll see tonight if it gets me to the finals.


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