Sunday, June 18, 2006

Italy vs. USA

Last night was amazing. My only other experience being at a bigtime soccer match was seeing Charlton vs. Leeds in the English Premier League three years ago. That was nothing compared to being surrounded by passionate Italians and Americans cheering on their teams in the biggest sporting event in the world.

Before kickoff, I wandered down the FanFest zone (that's the stadium up above) to see how different it would be on a gameday compared to my two visits last week. Huge difference. The streets were packed with all sorts of characters. I’d wondered how strong the USA support would be compared to the Italians. I’m proud to say Americans were out in force and were noticeably more energetic and enthusiastic than the supporters in blue.

Both sets of fans were sporting flags of every size. Almost made me wish I’d brought mine. Instead I settled for a red, white & blue scarf, and after realizing that I could spend forever in the crowded FanFest and not accomplish anything, I headed to the stadium up on the hill overlooking Kaiserslautern.

Once getting past security and buying some eats, I settled into my seat (which was in a great spot, in my opinion), and eased into the atmosphere. At first I was a little uncomfortable because I was mainly surrounded by Italians decked out in blue, including one guy to my right who insisted on waving his flag no matter how many times it hit others around him in the face. There were plenty of Americans around, though, with flags of their own. A huge Stars and Stripes was unflurled in the rows beneath me and passed around, surprising, and perhaps shaming, some of the Italians who had nothing similar.

Once the game kicked off, it soon became apparent that the American team weren’t just there to make up the numbers. They’d come to play, and in fact dominated the action early on. The Italians quickly grew quieter and quieter as they saw the Americans playing with passion and confidence, and their own players having to resort to cheap shots and faking injuries.

Perhaps most surprising was how strong the American support was in the stands. I have no idea how the tickets were divided up, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that stadium weren’t split at least 60-40 in favor of the USA. And the Americans were by far the more vocal, singing nearly non-stop through the entire game even when the refs seemed determined to make sure America would not have an historic victory over Italy. Every once in awhile the Italians around me tried to start chanting “Italia… Italia…,” and one Italian stood up defiantly against the large group of Americans behind me when the second American player was ejected from the game, but was quickly drowned out by a roar of “USA! USA!” from all the Americans in that side of the stadium. It was inspiring, even to me, so I can imagine what it must have felt like to the players down on the field to realize they had so much support from their countrymen. It seemed to work, because the American team played well beyond the Italians with a determination not to lose, even though they were playing with one less teammate on the field.

In the end, the USA earned a draw, though if the ref had kept the teams numbers even on the field, American could very well have won that game. They’ve never once won a World Cup match in Europe and have never beaten the Italians in ten tries. They were so close last night, and even with a draw, most of the American supporters left feeling pretty good about their team. I know I was pretty happy, though probably looking a bit drained, too.

Later this week I get to go to another World Cup match: Saudi Arabia vs. Spain. I’m throwing my support in with the Spaniards, but I already know that no matter what happens in that game, it cannot come near what happened last night. That is unless the Saudis somehow pull off a huge upset. More about that next weekend.

Videos from the night:
  • Video 1: Right before kick-off and the Americans are making lots of noise.
  • Video 2: The end of the Nationa Anthem and the Americans behind me.
  • Video 3: Action from the first half and the Italian supporters trying to make a little noise.
  • Video 4: The Americans making much more noise early in the first half.
  • Video 5: Very happy fans in blue when Italy scored.
  • Video 6: Short clip of the USA tying the match.
  • Video 7: The Americans go nuts after the goal.
  • Video 8: The second half and the Italians are pretty glum.
  • Video 9: Short clip when we almost scored late in the second half (and me forgetting I was filming).
  • Video 10: End of the match and a very cheesy song.


At 3:21 PM, Blogger alex said...

I know the fonts look like hell. Blogger is really letting me down.

At 12:26 AM, Anonymous cody verschage said...

hey mr. mauldin that game was awesome i watched it on a big screen in downtown k-town and i was going crazy and i said before the game that we would win 2-1 but i guess a tie is satisfying enough lets go beat ghana!


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