Saturday, June 17, 2006

As I mentioned recently, I've been getting into World Cup soccer. Last night, or rather early this morning, Angela and me made a little excursion in the wee hours to go and watch the Italy/USA match. As a couple with equal nationalistic representation in such a match, we had a competitive interest in the game and, gambling man that I am, had even made a bet on it.

We met left our apartment shortly after midnight, the weather was comfortable, and caught a taxi to Hou Hai. We had stayed home all day, sleeping and resting, in preparation for this night. It was amazing how clear the road was at that hour and we made good time. Seth and Marianna were waiting for us to join them at a bar we knew, one of the many in Hou Hai which really all look alike. Seth is from the states, like me, and Marianna is from Italy, like Angela. All four of us were quite interested in the game and had talked about it often in the days leading up to the contest.

It was about 12:30AM when we arrived. As Angela and me walked the streets around Hou Hai on our way to meet Seth and Marianna, we couldn't help but notice the number of TVs and wide-screens set-up both outside and in, all of them tuned in to World Cup soccer which, at that moment, was featuring the contest between Ghana and the Czech Republic. The sound of the game could be heard in the summer air around the lake and, in any direction, on rooftops and in front of cigarette shops and bars, the game was on. I had never seen such a concentration of sports mania away from a sports arena.

We had a couple of beers, watched Ghana win, and then caught another cab to Ritan Park. It was about 2AM. There was a World Cup festival in the park and we were going there, to the Temple of the Sun, to watch Italy vs. USA. There were two huge video screens, one showing the match with the Chinese broadcast and one showing the international broadcast. The screens were actually assembled on the altar at The Temple of the Sun. A few hundred people were gathered together, seated in white plastic chairs around white plastic tables drinking and talking. We saw many people we knew and waited eagerly for the match to begin at 3AM.

The first half of the game was quite exciting, ending in a 1-1 tie, with both teams losing a player due to red cards. Angela had bet me that the USA team would not even score and, as they had, I had won the first of our two bets: breakfast. By the time the second half began, around 4AM, the sky had begun to lighten. Team USA lost another player early on to a red card and played most of the second half short one man. Italy pressed, but couldn't punch the ball through and the tense game ended with no change in the score, which nullified our second bet, a cup of coffee, as there was no clear-cut winner.

Everyone left and we returned home by about 5:30AM, tired but pleased with the results of an exciting game.

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