Note: I just arrived in Europe today (spending the Xmas holidays in Salerno, Italy), after a pretty long voyage. So I apologize for the lack of updates yesterday and today. I’ll try to connect when possible during the next week, but expect a significant decrease in update frequency
This article is my submission for the Soccerlens ‘Share Your Football Experiences’ Contest. I thought I’d share it with you here, since it’s something very much related to Italian Soccer. If you have the patience to read the whole thing, that is…
Well, before the competition ended, I thought I’d add my little contribution to Soccerlens’s “Share Your Football Experiences” theme this month. I apologize in advance for the piece’s length, I do tend to get carried away sometimes. So feel free to consider this “outside of the competition”. I also apologize for the quality of the pictures, but that’s the best I could do with short notice. I’ll try to get my friend Mario to provide me with some better ones later.
I long debated about which life experience to choose, about which event affected me most emotionally (and also which one would be more interesting to read ), I juggled between real intense football matches in which I’ve had the opportunity to participate in, local tournaments, university intramurals, and so forth. I also thought about my experience as a soccer referee in my Canadian university program, and how it brought me to look at the beautiful game under a different perspective.
Nevertheless, the experience I’ve chosen to talk about dates back not so long ago, to a year which many (if not all) Italians will remember fondly, because it brought an end to a a very very long wait, for something which had been missing from the ‘Country with the old boot’ for far too long. I’m talking of course about the Azzurri national team winning the World Cup in Germany. In particular, I’d like to tell all of you about how I’ve lived the FINAL GAME on July 9th, France vs. Italy.
For starters, I should point out that I’ve been living in Montreal, Canada for the past 7 years now. I decided to move here when I finished my high school education in Paris (France), and when came the moment to pick a university, as a young boy striving for independence at the time, I decided to put the most distance as humanly possible between me and my parents and still maintain an English-speaking environment. In seriousness though, I chose Montreal and McGill also partly because of their multi-cultural environment, something to which I was exposed throughout my whole life and which has taught me a great number of things, on the soccer pitch in particular.
Now while some of you may think that playing, watching and following soccer in North America may be harder than in Europe, it actually isn’t. Now it is true, people here aren’t as crazy about the beautiful game as in Europe. In Canada in particular, the local professional soccer league is almost non-existent. The local team, the Montreal Impact, competes in a league called the USL (United Soccer Leagues) which could be considered as a sort of “B-division” for Major League Soccer almost. In any case, the level of the soccer matches is very average… however, the local big soccer fanatics follow with interest the matches of the UEFA Champions League, and there are plenty of sports bars in Montreal who have a very loyal soccer clientele (mostly foreign, but still). Every week-end these bars fill up with Portuguese, Spanish, Argentine, Italian enthusiasts, dying to see the matches of the Serie A, La Liga, and Premier League in a sports environment.
All this to say, that there is a true worship of soccer here, contrary to normal expectations, which is in large part the contribution of the immigrant communities (South-American, Arabic, Portuguese, Greek… and of course Italian). And when it comes to the World Cup… forget about it: it’s as big an event as you can get, anywhere in the world. After their home team won a big match, people are cheering in the street and driving around cars waving flags almost (almost!) as if they were in their home country. It’s truly a great spectacle to watch (unless you’re on the losing side of course).
Anyways, long story short: up until the final game, I had been watching the World Cup games (inncluding the Azzurri road to the Berlin final) with some close friends and soccer enthusiasts, but I had never actually been surrounded by Italians, believe it or not, for any of the games! So for the final, I thought about correcting that: I would go to Jean-Talon (part of the Montreal “Little Italy”) and watch the final there!
So I called my friend Mario (whom I’ve met during my studies at the university, and who’s been living in Little Italy since he was a little kid) and asked what he had planned for the big match. He told me he and some friends were meeting up in an Italian buffet restaurant, 1-2 hours before the game, and watch the whole thing there on a big screen TV projector. I thought “Wow, that is exactly what I’m looking for: a whole room, a whole restaurant… no, a whole NEIGHBOURHOOD cheering for the same team, the Azzurri!”. So I told Mario “Great man, hook me up I’m coming too”.
On the day of the game, I met Mario at the restaurant (forgot the name of the place now, sorry), met his friends, we all sat down with our tasty Italian food and began eating, waiting for biggest match of the year to begin. Eventually the moment comes: the teams step onto the field, France in white, Italy in blue… or “azzurro” as we call it back home. The TV crew closes up on the players as the national anthems are played… everyone in the restaurant is singing “L’Inno di Mameli” through to their lungs… at this moment I’m also thinking “God bless you Rino Gattuso, we all love your heart and dedication on the field, but you’re completely tone-deaf” . Capitan Cannavaro (“C’è solo un ca-pi-tano…”) and Zinedine Zidane exchange team crests, then under a minute both teams are ready for kick-off! SI PARTE!
Minute 6 in the match, Florent Malouda receives a deep pass down France’s left wing, enters the box and appears to be brought down by Marco Materazzi. Referee Horacio Elizondo points to the spot. Goddamnit! Zizou for the spot-kick… “Forza Gigi, fai il miracolo” I’m thinking (self-explanatory)… ball hits the bar, then the ground over the line, goal. 1-0 France. Crap. Not the start we had been looking for.
No worries though, this was the Azzurri’s World Cup. We had played the best soccer the Azzurri had played in years, and this was only the beginning of the match.
Minute 18, Mauro Camoranesi wins a corner-kick on the right wing. He gets behind the ball, but then seeing expert free-kick magician Andrea Pirlo he leaves the set piece to his team-mate. Pirlo looks up, waits a second or two, then runs for an express delivery for Marco Materazzi‘s head. Patrick Vieira may well be 1m93, there’s nothing he can do on Matrix’s header, and Fabien Barthez can only watch as the ball enters the net to tie the game. 1-1!!
EXPLOSION OF JOY inside the restaurant. Everybody’s jumping up and down, I nearly spilled my glass of water on the table, but who cares, the Azzurri have just tied the game, and it’s only minute 20 in the match!
About 30 minutes into the first half, the worst thing that could happen to a sports fan while he’s watching a game, something far far worse than his team conceding a goal, missing a touchdown, being sent off or whatnot. I kid you not people: the power in the whole damn neighbourhood went out. NO JOKE! Because believe me… no one in the restaurant was laughing.
Temporary thing? Everyone hoped so. Was it just us, our place? A look outside rapidly made us realize that no, it wasn’t. Power was out for a good 5-6 blocks, if not more. “You have got to be kidding me” I thought… right in the middle of the match! The restaurant owner called Hydro-Quebec (the electric company in charge here in Montreal), who said they were trying to restore power, but with no reasonable expectation on the time it would require.
Mario’s friends were all on their cell phones, getting updates from their family (aunts, cousins, moms) who were watching the game in another Little Italy neighborhood. “Toni hit the bar?”. “Sh** Luca hit the bar”. “Damnit”. “Come on Azzurri”… “Damn I can’t believe we’re missing this”.
After about 15 minutes or so, it was time for half-time. The power was still out, so we made a judgement call: we left the restaurant to try and find a place down on St. Laurent (one of Montreal’s biggest and longest streets) which was showing the game. We started walking, and soon enough, entered a zone in which power was still working. As you could expect though, every single restaurant/bar/sports shop with a working TV was filled with people, dozens and dozens of Azzurri fans all gathered around those plasma screens and cathode ray tubes, some sitting, most standing, with enough space between us and the screen to barely catch a glimpse of the action.
After a bit of walking trying to find a decent spot (i.e. without a gazillion people gathered to watch… but who were we kidding?), we gave up and stopped at a Caffè (coffee place) with a small 20” TV screen hanging from a support on the wall. It was the only screen we could get a view on, even though we could distinguish almost nothing from the game, short of a big close-up on the players. By then, the second half had restarted, and including the time we missed from the first half, that was at least 20-25 minutes of Berlin final we were never going to get back (until later for the repeat shows that is).
Minute 57, on what seemed to be a Pirlo free-kick (God knows, that screen looks so fu**ing small! I later find out it was Grosso), Toni heads the ball in!!!! Wait it’s a goal? YEAH it’s a goal, I see Toni and De Rossi celebrating!!! It’s fu**ing 2-1!!!!!!!!!!!!! Wait… no it isn’t. The goal is called off for offside. Argh! I’m fu**ing dying out here… can’t see nothing from where we’re standing.
Hold on… Mario is getting a call on his cell phone. It’s the owner of the restaurant we were at. The power’s back!! The power’s back!! And guys, if you’ve ever seen anyone run for their lives, you’ve seen nothing. We were flying faster than the wind to get our asses back there.
Phew. Minute 65, we’re back at the restaurant where it all started… and the good news; we haven’t missed too much of the game. The TV’s working, we got a good view on the screen here (the place got cleared out pretty fast as the power went out, as you can imagine). What an adventure though… but who cares, there’s a soccer game to watch, the biggest of the year… no scratch that, of all time!
Minute 90, Elizondo calls full time. The FIFA 2006 World Cup will play on to extra time. Everyone at the restaurant is sweating bullets.
Minute 97 (or was it… wait, who cares about minutes anyway… we’re all living the moment at this point), Ribery through on the edge of the box, low shot… inches wide of Buffon’s post. I think I peed myself a little.
Minute 106, Zidane gets it in midfield… out to Sagnol on the right… looks up… looping cross… Zidane’s free in the middle!!! OMG!! Header by Zizou! GIGIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII!!!!! Immensooooooo!! I think my heart stopped, and is about to give up. One more of these and Marco’s history (forget 911 and the paramedics… they’re probably all watching the game anyways right?). But I’m still standing… WE‘re still standing… and hanging on.
Then, dumbfounderment. Disbelief. Puzzlement. Materazzi’s lying on the floor. Zidane has just stamped his head onto his chest. How on Earth did that happen? Elizondo’s walking up to him… red card for Zizou. Wow.. I really can’t wrap my head around that one. He must have really lost it. For a second, my mind wanders as Zizou, the man of such an immense talent, the man that has delighted all the Juve supporters for many many years with his genius touch, walks past that golden cup.
It’s a short second though, because I immediately get back to the stakes at hand here: the Azzurri are out to win this game, without Zidane, it’s just added ammunition for us.
Minute 120, another full time whistle. The 2006 FIFA World Cup will be decided on penalties. Oh God…
Those fu**ing penalties. Those fu**ing penalties which have screwed with the Azzurri for the past 16 years since effing 1990. 1990: out in the semi-finals vs. Argentina. 1994: out in the final vs. Brazil. 1998: out in the quarter-finals vs. France. All on fu**ing penalty shoot-outs.
Positive thinking… positive thinking. Euro 2000: we beat Holland on penalties… that’s good right? My rational mind immediately makes me realize “Dude, that’s only because Holland are even worse than us on penalties… I mean they had 2 P.K.’s in regular time, and Toldo (super Toldo!) saved De Boer’s, Kluivert stamped his onto the post, and then Toldo did another magic trick vs. Bosvelt. Nah… this isn’t good.
But then… the magic of the numbers… 1970… Italy gets to the final.. loses against Brazil. 1982… Italy goes to the final… wins against Germany. 12 years later… 1994, Italy goes to the final… loses against Brazil. 2006… I mean there’s a pattern here right? The press has been all over this these past days, numbers fu**ing mean something right? It’s written into the slates of destiny, we GOTTA win this!
All this is wandering through my mind as Pirlo steps up to take the first spot shot. Spot-kick specialist, for both AC Milan and Italy. BAM! Ball to the center, Barthez to the left. GOAL!! 1-0 Azzurri!
France scores their first too. 1-1.
Materazzi… the saviour of the tying goal… the Azzurri top-scorer with Luca Toni, do you believe this? Another set-piece/spot-kick specialist. Ball low to the right, Barthez the right way… GOAL!! 2-1!!
Trezeguet for France now… Every time he takes a spot kick for Juve I’m always dying a little inside… he just can’t take them… always goes for power in the middle. Will he repeat here? Buffon knows him… can he do a miracle?
Trezeguet’s shot… onto the crossbar!!!! YESSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS!! He missed!!!! He missed!!!! NO GOAL!!!! 2-1 Italy still!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
De Rossi… ball to the left… wow, fu**ing top corner!!! SIIIIIIIII!!! Barthez’s got nothing on you guys!! 3-1!!!!!!!!!
France scores. 3-2.
Del Piero now… mister spot-kick for Juve. Surely there’s no way he can miss this. Ball to the left, Barthez to the right. GOAL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 4-2!!!!!! We can take this!!!!!
Big pressure on France… if Sagnol misses it’s over.
France scores. 4-3.
Fabio Grosso… Fabio, the hero of Italy-Germany, the hero of Dortmund. I’m still seeing that inswinging left-footer past Jens Lehmann’s outstretched arm. Fabio Grosso… an entire nation is hanging on from your foot. Fabio Grosso… Fabio Grosso… FABIO GROSSO!!!! GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOLLLLLL!!!
CAMPIONI DEL MONDO!!!! CAMPIONI DEL MONDO!!!! CAMPIONI DEL MONDO!!!! CAMPIONI DEL MONDO!!!!
Oh what a day…
Marco Pantanella is a Writer and Editor for Soccerlens, and also writes for his own blog, mCalcio.com
This article is a submission for the Soccerlens ‘Share Your Football Experiences’ Contest; to participate, please read the details here.