Thursday, June 17, 2010

Game #2

Well, I’m up. Just watched France's World Cup hopes shattered by Mexico. I have to say – though I don’t follow professional soccer throughout the year (there are too many professional leagues throughout the world for me to really get invested), I, like most others, get completely wrapped-up in the FIFA World Cup. I’ve been watching at least two games a night, and when the first one starts at 8:30pm and the last at 3:30am, I’m kind of in trouble.

My team is France – partly because my last name connects me to it in a round-about way, and partly because of my love for Zinedine Zidane and Thierry Henry. For the 2006 cup in Germany, I was elated to see France go through to the final, and devastated to see them lose to the classless Italian team. Still, I take from that game the personal honor of Zidane’s choice to get red-carded in the last international match of his career to defend his family’s honor. If some low-life jackass called my Algerian sister “a terrorist whore”, I’d lay him out on the world’s biggest stage as well. Italy won the game in a shoot-out, but they were also outed (again) as the team with the least sportsmanship.

Sadly, it looks like France is on the way out this year. They need a miracle – two actually. First, they need to beat the host South Africans by a 4 goal margin (France hasn’t scored yet this tournament), and they need Uruguay to do the same to Mexico. Merde. I guess this is karma biting them back – this is what happens when your leading players sleep with underage prostitutes and you earn a birth in the finals by eliminating Ireland with a hand-ball.

Oh, well… I’ll still watch and find other heroes and villains.

Speaking of which, this is my first time living in a country that is absolutely mad about soccer and actually has an entry in the finals. It’s a madhouse here on game day – literally millions of red-clad fans hit the streets of Seoul to support their team. I decided to head down to Gwanghwamun plaza with a few friends – just in front of the statue of Admiral Shin – and watch the South Koreans play Argentina.

Well, the Red Devils lost 4-1, though one Argentina goal was certainly off-side and another was an “own-goal” off a Korean defender. The South Koreans were out-played, but they still sit in second place due to goal differential with one game remaining. I plan on being there at 3:30am on Wednesday morning when Korea plays Nigeria. Assuming an Argentina win against Greece, South Korea will only need a tie, but we’ll see.

It would be nice to see South Korea go through. The spirit in this city is amazing for this game. Everything just shuts-down for the big party. It’s hard to explain for those that haven’t been to Seoul, but for those that have, imagine City Hall over-flowing all the way to the Sejeong Arts Center with fans watching on big screens hanging from the glass towers that line the streets. There is also a huge area at the Han River Park set-up with screens. Tens of thousands in front of COEX for the SE crowd, and the entire World Cup stadium is full, too. That’s what’s needed in a city of over 10 million, I suppose. Itaewon, too isn’t a bad place to take in the games. I was there last Saturday for S. Korea’s 2-0 victory over Greece and it was a carnival atmosphere. I’m usually not a big Itaewon fan, but during the World Cup, as it’s the most foreigner-populated are in Seoul, it was like being at the World Cup, itself – lots of flags and lots of fun.

Though South Korea lost, last night was one of the most exciting sporting events I’ve ever attended. I’ll be cheering for the Red Devils to make it through to the round of 16 just so the party can continue here for a while longer. Friendly faces abound. I was wearing my 다시한번 대한민국 (“One more time, Korea!”) T-shirt yesterday and it was a big hit at school. On my way to the game downtown, a man rode past me on a bike and gave me the thumbs-up before adding: “USA – fighting!” basically the Korean way of saying “Go, USA!” Everyone here assumes that most foreigners are American. On the way home, a woman approached me on the subway and was able to say “How can I thank you enough for cheering for our country?” She really wouldn’t let it go. When she learned that I was from Canada, she wondered why my country didn’t have a team in the finals. I could have explained how it has something to do with Owen Hargreaves loving his father more than his mother, but she wouldn’t have understood, I’m sure.

Anyway – good times, but I’m tired. I’ve got my fingers crossed for a France miracle, but I'm more realistically excited about the possibility of South Korea in the second round. Lots of good soccer left to be played.

An interesting note – despite the recent political/military turmoil between the North and South in recent days, most people here seem to be pulling for the North Korean team to make it out of their group. They are unlikely to, being that they are (perhaps ironically) in the “group of death” this year along with Portugal and Brazil, but I still find it interesting from a cultural perspective that my South Korean co-workers are really hoping the North advances. North Korea hasn’t been in the World Cup finals for decades, so the fact that both Koreas are there is, I suppose, pretty special. People here seem to be able to easily set-aside political differences for now, and are able to separate sport and state. Everyone’s using words like “brother” and “our people” when the subject arises.

Interesting - and just slightly more so that the wealthy young couple that fell asleep drunk on the subway last night and vomited into each other's laps. The old gentleman beside them lay his newspaper down on the ground to soak-up the bile and the lady across the aisle offered the bottle of water I encouraged here to give to the girl. I'm pretty sure she threw-up on a new Louis Vuitton purse (still in the shopping bag), and I'm pretty sure it was real. They'll have a fun morning.

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