Friday, July 09, 2010


Disclaimer: this post is about the world cup, but not really.

Its a story of before and after, and the dramatic fortnight in between.

I realized I am in a unique position before the world cup began. I grew up watching football in India, which became soccer once I moved to US, and fußball when I came to Germany. But in spite of the excitement it generated in India, and the metamorphosis of people to Brazilians or Argentinians during that particular month, we never really had any stake in the championship. It was exactly opposite in US, where few people cared about the tournament, although I get a feeling that has changed this year.

But in Germany, the involvement was real. Although before it all begun, the expectation was not very high from this very young team. The first dramatic victory over Australia was treated almost as a pleasant surprise, and the subsequent defeat against Serbia made people cynical again. Then they sneaked by Ghana, and all people wanted was to win the "war" against England.

As they say, one game changes everything. That emphatic win, albeit with the English "no-goal", made people believers, and the systematic destruction of Argentina started the discussion about winning it all. The often dull, workman like German style was gone, and the fluent attacking game, complemented by the usual accurate finishing became a delight to watch. Even I found myself subconsciously rooting for "Die Mannschaft".

Rooting for a sports team (and getting disappointing) is nothing new for me. That Javed Miandad six off Chetan Sharma shaped our psyche, and every meek Indian capitualtion in cricket brought about national mourning. It turned more personal after I became a "Gator", and we were royally pampered with a pair of national championships each in football and basketball during my stay there. For all my non-American friends out there, that is a big deal. Wild celebration after all those championships at university avenue till wee hours of morning remain one of my fondest memories from my Gainesville days

So I was secretly hoping for an encore. Too bad, it did not happen. But what really surprised me was the sheer classiness of the people here. In Florida, we hated losing. We were fiercely partisan. Opposition players and coaches were ridiculed, called by profanity-ridden-names. Even when we were thoroughly outplayed, the crowd honestly believed we are one big play away from turning it around. People were not merely upset after the loss, but they were intensely angry. We would never acknowledge that the other team can play better. The Monday after, campus would be in mourning.

I was expecting something similar when it looked inevitable that Spain would score. I was watching the game with an enthusiastic, flag waving, vuvezela playing, obviously patriotic crowd by the river in a giant screen. Everything that moved was decked in German colors. Spain scored, and the crowd just went quiet. And they remained quiet, with occasional desperate "Go Deutschland" cries. And then it was all over. The crowd dispersed methodically, strangely emotionless. To all fairness, if before the start of the tournament, they were told Germany will reach the semi-final after crushing England and Argentina, most would have gladly taken it. But still, it felt eerily calm, considering the magnitude of the occasion.

Hell, when LeBron James ditched Cleveland three days later, more people seemed more upset.

Just when you start to think you have seen it all, you realize you have not.

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