I must admit that I got swept up in the 2014 World Cup. I was cheering for the United States even though I knew they had no realistic chance of advancing very far.
When the United States advanced out of the so called “Group of Death” by defeating Ghana, I thought there was a slight change they might be able to defeat Belgium. It was interesting to see all of the Americans rallying and watching soccer though it’s often considered the fifth most popular sport behind football, basketball, baseball, and golf.
Watching Tim Howard save goal attempt after goal attempt against Belgium brought me back to my first World Cup experience in 1994 when I was living in Sweden.
I was at a McDonald’s near the central train station late at night watching Brazil and Sweden in the semifinals. Thomas Raveli was the keeper for Sweden at the time and was making similar save after save before finally conceding a goal. The match ended at around 1 am Stockholm time. I remember walking outside pretty bummed that Sweden didn’t win only to see a group of about 12 Brazilian fans marching down the road beating a drum celebrating Brazil’s victory. Pretty brave if you ask me.
Sweden ended up taking 3rd place and the Swedes went bezerk. They had a heroes welcome for the team at Rålambshovs Park in Stockholm where 23,000 people came to celebrate their 3rd place victory that I attended. It truly sunk in how much soccer means to other countries. Henke Larsson and Martin Brolin were national heroes.
My second memory was when I was in Budapest, Hungary for a business trip and heard that Hungary and Bulgaria were playing that night in a World Cup qualifying match. I decided to go with a friend to the match. As we approached the stadium, it was apparent that it was going to be unlike any other event I had ever been to. We were greeted by 20-25 police officers with German shepherds. As we found our seats there was a tremendous amount of yelling between the Hungarian supporters and Bulgarian supporters which I found a bit amusing since neither speaks the same language so all of the verbal taunts probably fell on deaf ears.
The two opposing sections were encased in a chain link fence and barbwire to keep the two fan bases separated. At one point a particularly enraged Hungarian fan tried to scale the fence to yell some things at the Bulgarian supporters but stopped short of the barbwire. The Bulgarians won the match 2-0 and as I was walking back to the subway station, we realized that the subway wasn’t running that night. So you had thousands of soccer fans with no way to leave the stadium. We ended up taking a taxi after a long wait.
Do you have a memorable World Cup memory?