It’s self imposed torture, supporting any sort of sporting entity, whether it be a school basketball team, a Formula One driver or a football team. When you’re crying the hardest you have in years after Roger Federer beat Andy Roddick in the 2009 Wimbledon final, really, you’ve got no one to blame but yourself. No one forced you to invest so much time and emotion into every match or race. No one was holding you at gun point when you bought the tickets or the team jersey for ridiculous prices. There is no logical explanation for the enduring, tortuous love fans feel despite the frustrations and disappointments their beloved team has dealt them. And it’s not even reciprocated, even if they always say “we love our fans”, it’s unlikely that it’s in the same rabid, gut-wrenching way. So, that love, that inexplicable, sometimes pathetic love that reduces even grown men to tears (have you ever seen a football match where a team gets promoted/relegated to the lower/higher division?), could arguably be the one of the purest forms of love in the world.
So, with that love in my heart, I made my way to Ellis Park in Johannesburg, to watch the FIFA 2010 World Cup quarterfinal between Paraguay and Spain. I wasn’t as wired and stressed out as I was before the Spain v Portugal and Chile v Spain matches, because, to be completely honest, it’s Paraguay. I wouldn’t be way out of line if I said Spain were the overwhelming favorites here. But, don’t get me wrong, I was still plenty nervous.
And I was right to be.
Throughout the first half, Spain wasn’t creating any real chances at a goal. Actually, there was only one, Xavi’s shot that when sailing above the crossbar. Either Paraguay was closing down the attacks, or the passes were either too heavy or Fernando Torres was just crap (but was still gorgeous, of course). I’ve described the feeling this way to friends: Imagine a hand, hovering over your heart. As the match goes on, the hand is closing in to grip your heart. When Paraguay hit the back of the net, that hand just squeezed my heart in its grip. When the offside flag was raised, it loosened its grip again. THAT’S HOW IT FEELS.
So you can now imagine how I felt during that spell between the 58th and 62nd minutes. First, Paraguay was awarded a penalty. I felt like someone sucked the wind out of the stadium when the referee pointed to the penalty spot (or maybe it was just the anghit of the guy seated in front of me. I swear, every time he raised his arms to cheer, or wave his flag or take a picture, I got scent-ually assaulted. Gross). I could barely see what was going on, because I was seated at the other end of the stadium, and the taller people and waving flags were blocking my view. I’m not sure I wanted to see anyway. But the kick was taken. Then cheering. BUT WAIT. The people cheering were wearing yellow and red. THE PENALTY KICK WAS SAVED by Iker Casillas. The hand with the iron grip on my heart let go, and with that, a burst of joy and relief and “COME ON IKEEEEEEEEEEEEER!”. And I breathed a little easier.
But not for long.
Within 2 minutes, Spain was on the attack, and David Villa is taken down in the area, and again, the referee points to the spot again. Aaaaaaaaaaaaaah! This is Spain’s chance, so soon after that Paraguay scare. The hand is gripping my heart again, but not as tightly as when the penalty was on the other end. So Xabi Alonso (why not David Villa? Because he missed his last PK?) lines up to take it,
kicks and scores! The hand’s let go of my heart again! Fans cheer and wave flags and high five each other! BUT WAIT. The goal is disallowed. He has to take the kick again. And there’s that tight grip on my heart again. Xabi lines it up again
THEN MISSES. The imaginary hand punches me in the gut with my heart in its unwielding grip. Someone, I couldn’t really tell, gets another shot, and it’s either off the crossbar or off a defender. Point is, it doesn’t hit the back of the net.
And so we’re back to square one, 0-0, with about 20 minutes to go, and I could barely watch. The grip on my heart is constant, except when Iker Casillas flubbed a save (damn you, Jabulani!) and the hand tightened just that tiny bit more. There’s a funny thing that happens, when you’re watching these things live, it’s like time speeds up and slows down at the same time. The balls bounces into an attacker’s path in slow motion, but at the same time, the oncoming defender seems to be approaching in a fast-forwarded blur.
And in a dizzying slow-mo/fast-forward combo in the 83rd minute, I feel my heart being squeezed to breaking (crushing?) point. Spain is on the attack. Iniesta brings the ball forward, passes to Pedro on his right, Pedro shoots, and HITS THE CROSSBAR. The ball rebounds to David Villa, and I think, could this be it? He shoots, BUT HITS THE CROSSBAR AGAIN. Just as I was steeling myself for one of the punches-in-the-gut-by-the-hand-holding-my-heart, the ball agonizingly inches its way through the air to the opposite crossbar, hits it, and (as if someone suddenly presses the >> button) the next thing I see is the back of the net moving. SCOOOOORE! I double check the pitch, in case it’s been disallowed again, but no flags were raised, no whistles were blown. GOOOOOOAL!
Now all Spain has to do is hold it together for the next seven minutes plus the added time. Ten minutes total. Ten excruciating minutes.
And then it’s over. Spain win. The hand gripping my heart disappears entirely and I finally breathe easily after what feels like 109 minutes of holding my breath (90 minutes plus half time plus extra time).
But the hand will be back. On Wednesday. Most likely in a metal-spiked glove with slits at the fingertips to let extra-long nails with Deutschland-themed nail art through.Like I said. Self-imposed torture.