I am a part of the Oxford Summer Program.
What I initially did not guess, or at least did not want to acknowledge, was that traveling abroad while taking classes is a grueling double life. You want to see the city and be able to live the life of a Berliner or Czech Republican, an Austrian, Roman, Florentine or Parisian. But at the same time, school calls you and HOPE incessantly nags you.
However, despite the homework load, I have been able to focus on the city at hand. I am now in Venice, the city of romance, food and gondolas. It is also a city overtaken with World Cup soccer madness. Whether you are a fan of the Italian team or not, soccer (or football to most of the rest of the world) is the topic of the day everyday. This sport has the innate ability to bring people from all over together.
It is an enormous honor to be chosen as the host nation. This year, it is South Africa’s turn. Many were worried that South Africa would not be able to rise to the challenge and the Cup would have to be moved to Australia. Now, with attendance figures coming in, it seems the country has beaten the odds. Over 97 percent of the tickets for all of the matches have been sold. Over the course of the next few weeks, almost two billion people will watch.
South Africa has been taken over by football more than anywhere else in the world, but the countries in Europe are not far behind. FIFA has set up “fanfests” in different cities. For any wanting to watch the Cup games on a big screen in Rome, it was in Villa Bourgese, a place comparable to Central Park in New York City, In Venice, while there is no “fanfest” in the technical sense, you are able to duck into any restaurant, pub or bar to catch even a portion of the game surrounded by other passionate football fans.
Last night was the first Italian game, Italy vs. Paraguay. For those of you that don’t keep up with the World Cup, Italy is the defending World Cup champion. This makes any move by Italy a memorable one. It was said that if Italy won, there would be riots in the street. And if Italy lost, there would be riots in the street.
The first round matches are not played as single elimination so a win or loss does not kick you out of the competition. But the glory of a win is coveted.
Before Italy’s first match, two of the most heavily watched games, England vs. U.S. and the opening match for the host country, South Africa vs. Mexico, had both ended in 1-1 scores. This was Italy’s chance to bring home the first win of the competition.
Paraguay scored the first goal within the first ten minutes of the game. Things were not looking good for the Italian team. Halftime came and went without Italy scoring a goal and the tension in the room was palpable.
But in the second half, Italy came back and scored a goal. The room went absolutely mad. Being at the front of the room, the enthusiasm was intense. There was jumping. There was screaming. There was hugging. And there was even some thanking of God. It felt as if every male fan in the room was now bouncing up and down in pure joy. It seemed as if every female was yelling and hugging one another. I could feel the floor shaking beneath my feet.
It was fantastic. This celebration of the goal was definitely comparable to a Tech sporting event. To feel this sort of pleasure while surrounded by these fans in another country was a new world.
Earlier, I mentioned something about riots. Though we were expecting chaos for a win or loss, we did not know what was going to happen if there was a tie.
As the match progressed, the tension began building again. Many choice words were hurled at the screen when the ball was stolen by Paraguay. Cheers were called when favorites were put on the field. In the final few minutes, the cheers, jeers and the general roar were at their peaks.
Though the game ended with another 1-1 score, the match was an eventful one. The excitement was contagious, the crowds were rowdy and there was pure joy from watching a football game on television with like-minded individuals. All in all, it was a great introduction to true soccer madness.