Fireworks, music, and car horns pierced the air last night, even for me living just on the edge of the city. I know being American has usually been contradictory to being a soccer fan. But, while not the most intense fan, I’ve always loved international soccer and watching the World Cup every four years more than I ever cared for the equally periodic Olympics.
My earliest and clearest memory of the World Cup finals is from 1994 when it came down to Italy and Brazil. My brother, parents, and grandmother huddled in excitement around my Italian-born grandfather, who at that time had lived in the U.S. for almost 50 years, as he sat in his favorite easy chair in the living room. It was the first time the world championship had been decided by a shoot-out, to no one’s complete satisfaction, after a full game plus overtime score of 0-0. Brazil won by one goal in the shoot-out, burning them in my mind forever after as an invincible force.
In the next World Cup, four years later, Brazil again made it to the finals, this time against France. I bet one of my friends from school a dollar that Brazil would win, and considered it easy money. I was stunned when instead France won 3-0. I begrudgingly gave up my dollar, but not before writing BRAZIL across it as large as I could in markers the colors of the Brazilian flag.
A few more World Cups went by… Brazil won again in 2002 against Germany; Italy finally won in 2006 against France in a tie breaking shoot-out; and Spain beat the Netherlands in overtime in 2010. This year, 2014, finds me living in Germany while their team wins the World Cup and becomes, as they say here, Weltmeister.
And what a finish. First they beat my childhood image of Brazil as a world class team to a pulp (7-1?!) in the semi-finals. Then they kept up a scoreless tie with Argentina in the final game right up until the last few minutes of overtime, when Mario Götze scored the goal that made Germany this year’s world champions.
What’s it like being in the world-winning country? I’ll spare you the background details of the tacky soccer décor and foods that have been available at every store for the past month and skip straight to the winning moment: Germany is five hours ahead of the host country of Brazil, so the extended grand finale ended around midnight last night. From a minute or so before the official end of the game on, fire crackers exploded in every distant direction. Flags and beer and cheering spread a wave of national pride across the streets that caught like fire. The partying in the cities continued for hours afterward, with every car honking as it passed.
I may have been disappointed years ago when Italy’s fate was determined by a few final kicks. But I never imagined I’d one day be living in the country whose team takes home the title of international champions, earned in Brazil no less.