Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Staking My Claim

Croatian Flag and Football
Image courtesy of
The Euro Cup begins in two days. In less than a month, the hopes and dreams of fifteen nations will be dashed, and one will be celebrating.

I read an article today that pointed out that in 2010, Americans got on board with the World Cup with the exciting run of the the USA (including Landon Donovan's fantastic extra-time goal, the furor over which crashed Twitter, Yahoo Sports, and I'm sure quite a few businesses' servers) and that by the time they got knocked out by Ghana in the Round of 16, we were, as a nation, lost to the enthrall of the beautiful game, and continued watching.

However, the article went on to say, this time around, there is no US team to root for. Even for those who are a little more internationally aware, we're missing some of the greats, like Lionel Messi and the Argentinian squad. No, Euro Cup is just for Europe - and if we are to watch with any vested interest, we are forced to choose a team from those whom we may have little or no connection with.

I have no such dilemma, however. I love European football. In fact, I fell in love with the sport in Europe, and all my African-MK brother-in-law's cajoling could not sway me from the continent. I remember watching matches from Euro'96 in bistros, police stations, and corner stores across Central Europe as we traveled through eleven countries in three weeks that June. I will never forget the silence of the streets of Prague the night that Germany beat Czech on penalties in the final. It was a powerful enough moment to root in me a hatred for the German powerhouse that has me rooting for whichever team is currently up against them. I love watching Germany play. I love it even more when they lose.

Four years ago, once my favorites were out of the tournament, I found myself swayed by the magic that was Spain in Euro'08. El NiƱo swept me along, Iker Casillas made a believer out of me, and La Roja had my full approval when they hoisted the trophy. I joined in their glory again two years later at the World Cup...but that was after England had fallen by the wayside.

For you see, England is my number two. Years of being asked if I was a British exchange student following my year in Hong Kong must have settled into my psyche somehow, for I have a love for the Three Lions. In recent years, I've held them as my "favorite" until they left the tournament.

But for the first time in four years, I get to watch my true favorite play once again. You see, I love Croatia, a little team I fell for fourteen years ago in a bistrot in Normandy, France, surrounded by drunk Dutchmen garbed in orange, and I've never quite gotten over it. I shall look for the red and white checkered uniforms to take the field on Sunday with rising anticipation that maybe, just maybe, this time they have a chance to repeat their run toward the title from the World Cup '98.

I have the benefit, as an American, of not expecting much from my own country's football team. I have the freedom to have three favorites in Europe alone. I have the right to hop from one allegiance to another when a team leaves the tournament, and if it goes poorly for all my teams, I will likely still have the pleasure of rooting for whoever plays Germany.

But I do love Croatia. And I'm glad to see them playing once again.

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