It was not love at first sight.
She was cheering on the Azzurri. I was for Les Bleus. That she’s not Italian and I’m not French, did not matter. We teased each other as if we were.
We met for the first time in that crowded, boisterous movie theater just outside of Washington D.C. A mutual friend invited us both to watch the World Cup final in 2006.
Seven months later, we had a romantic spark, during another unplanned meeting at the now-defunct DC club, Agua Ardiente. We danced like Zidane in the Brazilian midfield.
Now we’re married and have been for 9 years. Each World Cup final has become an unofficial anniversary for us, marking the occasion when which we first met.
During the years between World Cups, Sharen tolerates me watching league play. She occasionally complains that I spend too much time, especially when I’m still in front of the screen after my precious Arsenal has played. Sometimes she sits down with me, and finding herself bored, requests I change the channel. I name a few of the other games I have recorded. “Let’s see, how about Napoli versus Inter instead?” She usually laughs.
The World Cup is different, however. It is shared. We screamed about Egypt’s heart-breaking loss to Uruguay, and were saddened when a young Moroccan player scored an own-goal against Iran. We reveled over Nacho’s stunning goal and studied the replays of Ronaldo’s free kick in that riveting Spain-Portugal contest. When she woke up Saturday morning, she poked her head into our living room. Squinting her eyes, she asked me if France was beating Australia.
I happened to be in Oxford for a two week-long workshop. The participants were from all over, and many were from countries actually in the knockout stages of the 2010 World Cup.
An Italian scholar and I befriended a Catalan who worked for the provincial government. Javier became our case study in the contortions of nationalism. Early on in the workshop, he claimed Catalonia should have its own team with FIFA. We joked that all the other countries would welcome splitting Spain’s first team. As Spain advanced to the final by beating Germany, his elation started to overwhelm his sub-national pride. His rationalization: “Half the team are Catalans!”
The tightness of that team’s play — from the fierce defense personified by a flying, shrieking Carlos Puyol, to the fluid passing and movement by the hive mind of Iniesta, Xavi and Fabregas — excluded the possibility of divisiveness at that time.
We crammed into a student center on Oxford’s campus to watch the final. We started off sitting on the floor, but we were soon standing. Spain were too much for the Dutch that day in South Africa, but they needed an extra time goal to seal their fate. Javier ran around kissing and hugging everyone he could.
I am not very good at soccer, but I love to play it. One of my greatest pick-up soccer performances was immediately after the 2014 World Cup final. I took in the match at a local sports bar, and then headed over for a pre-arranged game at the field where I regularly play. I’m not sure if I was inspired by Die Mannschaft or if it were the several beers in me that made me a fearless goal machine. No one but me remembers that I played better than Higuain that day.
What small glories will this World Cup still produce?