How I became obsessed with the beautiful game: road to the Champions League

So this past weekend was the UEFA Champions League Final: Bayern Munich vs. Chelsea. Just so you know, I’ve sort of been planning this blog for a while, but first some background into my soccer/football obession…

It all started when Landon Donovan scored in the 91st minute against Algeria during the 2010 World Cup group stage. Facebook overflowed with messages like “Landon Donovan is my hero!” and “Donovan for President!” (For video references, the goal: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2bg8vQKN4m8 and the awesome mashup video of reactions: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jbn3rOPmR9w. I still get chills when I watch these. Just something about Ian Darke’s voice.) The next step was the women’s 2011 World Cup in Germany. I found myself bored at my summer internship in Huntsville and silently screaming my head off as players like Abby Wambach and Carli Lloyd ran towards the goals of opposing teams. Then the quarterfinals arrived: the USA vs. Brazil. I happened to be home for that weekend. I remember hiding behind the wall to the TV at home as the game stretched to overtime. Suddenly…magically, Abby Wambach headed Megan Rapinoe’s cross into the net during the 121st minute. Unbelievable. But…that meant the game was down to penalty kicks. I HATE penalty kicks. I’m pretty certain my hatred for the whole idea of the Mexican shootout that is penalty kicks started during this particular game. My memory is kind enough the block out the stressful first penalties taken by either side. Today, I only remember watching Ali Kreiger’s goal flying past the Brazilian goalkeeper, seeing Ali sprint towards the rest of the USA team, feeling absolute elation and hope as Abby Wambach and Hope Solo jumped into each other’s arms. The USA would win it all. Sadly, Japan ended up winning the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup. On penalty kicks against the USA no less. Talk about a crushing disappointment. But the fire of passion for football/soccer had spread beyond a kindling within my soul. Suddenly my need to watch football/soccer was insatiable. My remedy was the Cop America hosted by Argentina. Now which team would I cheer for? Well, I had had an inkling of fandom for Argentina, Brail, and Uruguay during the World Cup, but any of these teams could/should win the Copa America. After a terrible group stage performance by all three teams, I watched Brazil drop from the competition and Argentina fall to Uruguay through penalty kicks. Uruguay ended up being crowned the Champions. My friend, Martina Cotelo, happened to be in Uruguay through the Barksdale award and was present for the final. So jealous. Regardless, I was slightly disappointed that Argentina hadn’t made it to the final. This probably has something to do with the media’s impeccable job of convincing me that Lional Messi is the greatest footballer on the planet. An opinion I still hold today.

Renee gave me this for xmas and I’ve been running around Brazil reppin’ my country

After the Copa America, I realized I was on the road to becoming a football/soccer fan for life. So without the influence of other aficionados (think that’s Spanish for intense fan, but it could be Portuguese haha) around me, I had to choose the teams to cheer for by myself. I ended up deciding to watch Real Madrid and Barcelona throughout the season to see which claimed by heart/mind/soul before choosing between the two. Outside La Liga (aka the top league of Spain), I figured I also needed a Premier League team to cheer for. Since most of the people I know who watch English football tend to cheer for Chelsea or Arsenal, I figured I’d watch the Blues throughout their season and more or less become a fan until convinced otherwise. Don’t really know why, just seemed appropriate. I’d like to reiterate the fact that no one in my life was an obsessed fan of football/soccer so choosing teams to cheer for was entirely up to me. As the season went along, I found myself being drawn toward Real Madrid more than any other team. In December, they lost 3-1 to Barcelona. It was painful. And this game was when I started to realize I enjoyed watching and cheering for Real Madrid more than Barcelona. Also at this point, Chelsea hadn’t had the most convincing season either, but I wasn’t going to stop watching them just because they had been performing poorly. Then in March, the Honors College launched the 2014 World Cup page, which included a list of books. After reading Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch about being an Arsenal fan, I found myself following the Gunners as well. It only took that book, a few goal compilation videos and adrenaline-pumping articles to convert me into an Arsenal fan. Too bad Chelsea and Arsenal are basically sworn enemies for life. Oh well, I’ll just combine the animosity between the two and direct it toward the Spurs.

At the end of their respective seasons, Real Madrid were crowned La Liga champions while Barça came in second. Chelsea finished a miserable 6th place, and Arsenal managed to scrap 3rd and a Champions League spot by the skin of their teeth. This brings up the main topic of this post: the Champions League. Real Madrid swept through the group stage with all wins. Barça, the defending champions, preformed very well also. Chelsea and Arsenal had less spectacular runs, but they both made it out alive. Then Arsenal was eliminated by AC Milan in the Round of 16, but they went down magnificently in the final game. My other 3 teams made it through until the semi-finals with a little drama and a little luck. And here’s where the world goes crazy. Chelsea pulled off an incredible feat and eliminated Barça. I couldn’t believe it. I also wasn’t sure what I felt about it, because part of me really wanted to see an all Spanish, Clásico final between Madrid and Barça. Then the killer blow hit: I had to watch Bayern eliminate Madrid through penalty kicks. Demoralized and angry, I knew I’d probably being cheering against all odds for Chelsea to win and be crowned European Champions.

Saturday afternoon, Lara and I headed to a restaurant down the street from where we live called the International Bar. Their menu comes in three languages: Portuguese, French and English. I had my blue tshirt on and nervously chatted the whole way there. Once we arrived the game and just started and Bayern fans were EVERYWHERE! The owner asked us if we were English since we were cheering for Chelsea. I think the fact that we were actually American really confused him haha. We ended up sharing a table with some Brazilians just because the place was so packed. Philip, the owner, came up to us at one point during the game and started laughing at us. He pointed at us and says “30 men for the Germans and 2 girls for the English.” I just smiled and laughed. My nerves were going haywire through the whole game. When Bayern scored in the 83rd minute, I legitimately ran out for a few seconds to scream and let out my frustration. Then five minutes later, Drogba tied it up with a powerful header off Juan Mata’s corner kick. I had called the goal seconds before, ask Lara if you don’t believe me. I couldn’t believe it, but I jumped out of my chair screaming in elation as the German guys around me screamed in frustration. Our collective anxiety stretched for another 30 minutes as the game went into extra time. After 120 minutes of play, the game turned into a Mexican shootout. I’d like to reiterate how much I despise penalty shootouts. But I really had no choice but to watch this. I had Lara on one arm and some random Brazilian (who I managed to convert into a Chelsea fan through my enthusiam) on the other as we all basically attempted to squeeze each other’s hands off. The Germans also were standing, not breathing, not talking. Drogba. Didier Drogba. When he stepped up to take the last pk for either team, everything rested on him. Bayern had lost two and scored three. Chelsea had scored three and lost one. Then Drogba found the back of the net. I just stared dumbly at the TV for a few seconds, not believing what I saw. Then I started jumping and screaming and laughing giddily. I felt kinda bad for the German guys who had collapsed into their chairs, but Chelsea had beaten Bayern against all odds. Half of me felt avenged for Madrid’s elimination through pks, and the other half of me was thrilled to see Chelsea win after following their tumultuous season. As we got ready to leave, one of the Brazilians insisted on buying our dinner for us as a way of congratulating us on Chelsea’s win. I tried to graciously refuse, but he snatched the bill away from the waiter before either Lara or I had a chance to even see it. We gave him a huge hug then headed home, shaking hands with random Bayern fans as we exited. It was hilarious and incredible and so much fun.

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~ by dfsg1991 on May 21, 2012.

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