Update: soccer still popular

12 Aug

I realized I didn’t even talk about the most important event EVER: our trip to watch 2 U-20 World Cup matches in the nearby Estadio!

To be fair, I only have two pictures of the 5 hour event, so you’ll have to take my word for it that I was really there.

The first match was between North Korea and Mexico. While the crowd would get restless every time either side approached the goal, there was more vocal support, overall, for the Mexican side. While part of this comes as no surprise (latin american countries share complicated bonds with each other, it seems)(UNLESS YOU ARE FROM ARGENTINA), the most important thing that this brings up is this: how demoralizing is it to be playing abroad and representing North Korea?!

There is nothing easy about being North Korean in general from the very little one can glean from the interwebs. I can’t condescend to sympathize; I’m capable only of empathy and–in all truth–it’s hard to know with what or whom I would be empathizing with. BUT, this post is about soccer, which is more accessible to me than the things reflected in Kim Jong Il’s sunglasses and so, about soccer I will write.

Even Argentina–disliked by the general Colombian consensus–had its smattering of fans throughout the audience. Aside from a group of three Colombians seated behind us, I could hear no one giving the North Koreans applause for “good effort” or complaining about a questionable call in Mexico’s favor. Teams often derive inspiration from the crowd, and to be without supporters abroad–when you are out of your element and comfort zone–is a sad thing.

So, I felt bad for them. I could have cheered for them but…I still have misgivings about cheering against the crowd favorite in a latin american country. So I didn’t.

Eventually, after Mexico spanked North Korea 3-0, the crowd ramped up for what we all considered would be a clásico: Argentina v England. The history between the two teams, the excitement of the crowd (which was mostly pro-England)(because OF COURSE) the perfect weather (because OF COURSE), the skills of both sides, the promise for the future of soccer in each country…all of it compounding into a general buzz in the crowd…

…and 90 minutes later we woke up. It was a snooze-fest from beginning to end, both sides playing defensively, preferring to pass the ball in the mid-field amongst each other rather than attack. When the crowd wasn’t busy doing the wave to stave off boredom they were whistling in dismay (it’s a thing here, apparently) at the dazzling lack of spark.

It was a shame that the game we all thought would be a nail biter turned out to be a dud. It was a blessing in disguise, however, to get treated to the stand-up comedians in the audience, doing the ol’ “Put me in, coach!”

So, the other picture is of a sniper on the roof. They spared no expense with security at the event, and the sniper on the awning was evident of this. Sadly, there was no awning above the other side of the stadium for a sniper to perch, meaning that if there was an assailant in the stands below the sniper, our best bet would be to get the sniper to shoot us, first. Applause for good effort, guys.

Finally, an anecdote about soccer. Jota and Carlos, who came to the game with us, aren’t huge soccer fans…anymore. In pre-1994, however, they were ardent supporters of Atlético Nacional, one of the two local teams here in Medellín. In 1989, Nacional had a banner year, winning games and championships, and is generally considered to be the best team ever to emerge from Colombia as an international contender. Late in the season, when the team was competing on a grander scale in South America, the mayor of Medellín would even declare holidays on the days after wins. According to Jota and Carlos, the team was perfect, and supporters of Nacional practically worshipped the players (even today they can still tick off the names of the starters on the spot). Some of the players would be recognizable to soccer lovers today, like Lionel Richie impersonator  René Higuita who is famous, in part, for inventing the most bad-ass goalie move ever, the scorpion; also of note, for sadder and more infamous reasons, was Andrés Escobar, who was beloved by his supporters but was ultimately beyond help in 1994, when he was gunned down [allegedly] for scoring an own-goal during a match against the US in the 1994 World Cup. After this, Jota and Carlos say, it just wasn’t fun anymore, and there was no going back.

Okay, that was a case of the sads. We can’t end on that! Here’s a long clip of René Higuita living up to his nickname, “El Loco“. René proves to us what bands like Poison, Motley Crüe and Bon Jovi were trying to convey all throughout the 80s: the bigger the hair, the bigger the bad ass. I’m sorry we didn’t listen, Brett Michaels. I’m so, so sorry.

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