As some of you know, other than baseball, soccer is the only sport I really follow. Its biggest event, the World Cup, is coming up. I remember during the 1990 World Cup in Italy, I was 10 and had just graduated grammar school. We didn't have tv, so I listened on the radio while Italy lost to Argentina in the semifinal game on penalty kicks, and I was so heartbroken I didn't even bother to follow the final.
In 1994, I had just finished my freshman year of high school and I brought a radio to my summer job so I could listen surreptitiously to the United States' surprisingly good play. Again, I was listening on the radio as Italy lost in the final to Brazil on penalty kicks. People rag on Roberto Baggio for his missed penalty kick, but he absolutely carried the team, scoring in the dying minutes to save Italy against Nigeria in the Round of 16 and then scoring decisive goals in the Spain and Bulgaria (Stoichov was awesome, albeit crazy) matches to get Italy to the final.
In 1998 in France, I had just finished my first year of college and was working a day job, a night job, and a weekend job during the summer in order to earn enough to go back to school. Once again, I was listening on the radio (a Sony Walkman I surreptitiously used to listen to the games in the warehouse where I worked) as the expectation-burdened US completely tanked and was listening again when Italy lost to France on penalty kicks to decide a goalless quarterfinal match.
In 2002 in Korea and Japan, I had just finished my first year of law school. It had gone surprisingly well and I was spending the summer working for one of our school's star professors. He invited me to one of those bars/restaurants in Baltimore that opens in the middle of the night for World Cup matches and I pretended to be composed as Italy lost 2-1 to South Korea on a b.s. red card handed to Francesco Totti for diving in the box during extra time. At least I could be happy for South Korea, at least until my professor watched, bemused, as about every single Korean kid I went to high school with called me to taunt me. I went to high school with a lot of Korean kids. He had so much fun he invited me again in the quarters a few days later when the U.S. played Germany, and again I pretended to be composed as the U.S. lost 1-nil on a Michael Ballack goal. This time only one German guy I had gone to college with called to taunt.
In Germany 2006, I was out of law school and living in Washington DC. For the first time, my worlds collided when the U.S. played Italy in the group stage - luckily the match ended in a draw, but I made the mistake of inviting friends over to my place to grill and watch the match, and took a lot of crap from them for my divided loyalties. My wife was pregnant with our daughter and we went to a friend's apartment to watch Italy beat Germany 2-0 in the semis and again when Italy beat France on kicks. On the way home from his apartment, I passed an Italian guy walking around Dupont Circle I vaguely recognized from some of the group stage games I had watched in the local osteria (essentially an Italian pub with much better food). One of the things about living in Dupont Circle in Washington DC is that you have a local osteria. As we crossed paths and high-fived, there were tears in his eyes.
Now it's 2010, my daughter is 3 and looking forward to her first world cup match. My wife is pregnant again and is due to give birth on the day when Italy plays its first match, against Paraguay and 2 days after the U.S. plays England in its first match. Once again I don't have a tv and so we'll have to go to the osteria again to watch. Pace J. Alfred Prufrock, I have measured out my life in world cup matches.
Anyway, it made me think - who do Canadians root for in the World Cup? Besides Italy and the U.S. (it hasn't been a fun week for me with Pirlo and Altidore both going down), I'm supporting Japan and New Zealand. I watched New Zealand's qualifying matches against Bahrain with two kiwis and that was plenty to turn the all-whites into a favourite. Who are you supporting this summer in South Africa and what are your world cup memories?