My mood lifted despite life’s stress as the sun stayed longer by a few minutes each day. Then, the heatwave arrived with FIFA World Cup. The city hosted the first few matches, including England, so it was like one big party over the weekend. I went out with my colleagues on an opening day to see games on the mega screen set in the middle of the Main River. People wearing football shirts of various national teams were chanting and drinking in the iconic market square. The riversides were lined by food and merchandise vendors, where we bought pork sandwiches and pretzels. Shops were open every day until 10 pm, and foreign ex-pats joked, “Germans are being friendly for the first time!”
During the previous World Cup, I was in Japan when the country jointly hosted it with South Korea. My investment banker date got a hold of tickets via work (of course, they go to big corporations), and I got to watch Italy vs. Croatia. A psychopath colleague of mine said to me, “why can a woman with no interest in soccer get to see it while many REAL (male) fans cannot? You will get killed by hooligans. England supporters are extremely violent.” I did have an interest in the sport, but I was also drawn to Italian footballers in tightly fitted uniforms (I say Italian, not because of the stereotype of sexy Italian men but because Croatian uniforms were not tight enough in comparison). But as I observed the game, I realized how strategic the sport was. Star footballers scored numerous goals, but they couldn’t be stars without intricate maneuvers of defenses and midfielders. I noticed the Croatian midfielder was excellent at connecting the players amidst the dynamic flow of the game. Croatia won that day, the first-ever football match I ever saw live. And I was safe and alive, unlike my colleague had warned. Fast-forward to 2014, I watched the World Cup on TV in California to find the Croatian midfielder leading the national team as the coach.
I lived in the host country again in 2006. The company had tickets because they developed and published the second most popular football game. Mr. Aoyama brought people from the R&D team to watch the Japanese National Team play. Mr. N and some other staff also went, but I wasn’t one of the fortunate ones. Stuart flew in over the weekend, and we watched it at a pub with a Japanese colleague and her German boyfriend. Japan lost, but Germany moved up the tournament, so the excitement continued until they lost to Italy at the semi-final. My colleagues grumbled about weepy Italians. I laughed because they did sometimes get theatrical in their attempt to elicit fouls. The final match between Italy and France ended with an actual “head butting,” which confused the whole world.
The city was deserted as soon as the World Cup closed. The mega screen on the river was dismantled, and shops closed at 8 pm and on Sundays. I felt sad there was no distraction from life any longer. I needed something to look forward to.