Excuse me and sorry in advance, this is not a story about traveling around the world, but this is a story about football from year to year.This is a story about my best friend who spread his fondness of watching live football on TV to me. Before that, I had not been interested at all with that sport. My male friends around me had always been crazy about football, but none of them had made me interested to the sport that once had been very strange to me.
Just imagine 22 people fought for a small ball. Twenty two people. For me it was very male. When I was a child, I always considered them strange. For example, they liked to spy on lovers in the park or quiet places. When I asked them what the lovers did, they answered, “Well, they didn’t do anything. They just talked while holding hands and sitting closely to each other.” So, why spy? I thought.
I knew The Best Friend as a painter and graphic designer at an economic magazine. We met in 1999 and often spent time together because we were compatible in discussing many things. We often spent time chatting, and almost every time it had to be interrupted by his activity watching Serie A (Italian football league) live on TV. I told him that I didn’t like it because football was a man’s thing. But, because my best friend argued smartly, he managed to make me glance a little at the game. He said that instead manly, football was in fact very human. There were emotions, mistakes, drama and of course art in it. Hmm…pretty interesting.
(Until a few years after that, I kept enjoying his beautiful tale about football).
In that year, he liked AC Milan. Its stars, among others, were Paolo Maldini, Clarence Seedorf (Netherlands) and Andriy Shevchenko (Ukraine). According to him, this club had a special ‘attacking’ tradition, a legacy of the brilliant trio from the Netherlands who had successfully made AC Milan The Dream Team; Marco Van Basten, Ruud Gullit and Frank Rijkaard. That part of the story took me back to my memory in Junior High, where I had been given a nickname Ruud Gullit because my mother had always done my hair in small braids before I’d gone to school. And, there had been a day when some male teachers at my Junior High School had not taught because they had watched a final game of AC Milan in Serie A.
However, it turned out that 1999 was only a year of AC Milan’s remnant of glory as The Dream Team, because the one that was rising to the top was Juventus with Alessandro Del Piero and Edgar Davids (Netherlands) as its stars. Besides Juve, there was another top club in Serie A, Lazio, which raised the name of a Swedish coach, Sven Goran Eriksson. Lazio, which had been considered an underdog team, suddenly won a Serie A title in 2000 and Eriksson was immediately appointed coach of the England national team.
In the years after that, my best friend’s career as an artist went up, making him often go overseas to exhibit or to attend the world artists meeting events.
The strange thing was, it seemed that the big football events always followed him wherever he went, to the extent that I thought perhaps he actually went abroad for those events. How lucky!
In 2000, he went to Amsterdam. At that time, Netherlands was hosting the Euro Cup. However, he couldn’t watch even one game because, in addition to the expensive ticket, he also had to attend day after day meeting with fellow artists. There was a unique thing that he saw there. One day, when he took a walk around Amsterdam, he saw many stages were built. The whole city was decorated with orange color because the orange team (a nickname for the Netherlands national team) had succeeded to advance to the semifinals and was ready to play that night. The public were ready to party because as a country with a strong tradition of football, they were sure that their team would advance to the final. It turned out Italy eliminated the Netherlands in the penalty shootout in the semifinals, though. And, Amsterdam suddenly died out. The city became gloomy and it amused my friend.
At that time, I’d already started to follow him watching the live games that I considered exciting on TV in Jakarta. It was the time when I started to recognize Zidane’s performance and liked it. When my best friend came back to Jakarta, I shared my watching experience with him animatedly and told him that I’d felt as though something had been missing to watch that big event without him. He laughed watching me, who didn’t like football so much initially, became enthusiastic.
My best friend then traveled more often, and like I said, very strangely, football events kept following him. One time, when Mali hosted the African Cup of Nations, he got an invitation to exhibit there. African star at that time was George Weah from Liberia. He also played for AC Milan and had been named FIFA World Player of the Year in 1995, becoming the first African player to win the award. He had also won the Ballon d’Or (European Player of the Year) in the same year. In Africa, he was voted the African player of all time.
In 2002, he went to South Korea. That country, together with Japan, was preparing the opening of the World Cup. My friend told me that in South Korea and Japan football wasn’t a favorite sport. The most favorite sports there were golf and baseball. But he saw that all residents of Gwangju were enthusiastic in welcoming that big event. Socially and politically, the lobby of the two countries as the hosts of the World Cup wasn’t about achievement but about building a football tradition in their countries.
And as we know since then the performance of these two countries in football has been increasing until now. In 2000 South Korea appointed a manager from the Netherlands, Guus Hiddink, who succeeded in leading South Korean team into the semifinals in the World Cup. That made Guus Hiddink become the first-ever person to be given honorary South Korean citizenship. I was more and more infected and watched that event in Biak, Papua, while I was making a documentary movie there. I saw that the residents of Biak were very crazy about the World Cup program. In the hours of live match, the small town of Biak was very quiet because everyone was watching the live program using parabolic antenna. And strangely at that time, almost everybody I met there was crazy about Turkey national football team and their star, Hakan Sukur.
After returning from South Korea, my best friend proposed to me and we got married in the same year. And so the football events followed my journey when I traveled with my husband. We couldn’t sleep until morning by the sound of firecrackers all night long when Galatasaray won ‘The Turkish Derby’ in ‘Turkcell Super Lig’ event against Fenerbahce in 2005 in Istanbul, when we were attending an exhibition there. Both teams were indeed known to have violent supporters who often clashed with each other.
One thing that annoyed me after we lived together was that sometimes my best friend, oops… husband didn’t want to watch the live match which was aired late night before the dawn. And later on I just realized that he apparently wasn’t a football enthusiast. He could talk about football as fluent as he talked about Valentino Rossi or Roger Federer. It turned out that he was just always up-to-date on information.
However, the football virus that he transmitted to me has been spreading slowly in my body. If at first I could only watch the game with a friend whom I could share it with, now I can immensely enjoy the live match of Barcelona alone at dawn.
So tonight, half hour before the first game of round of 16 was aired on TV, I interviewed my husband, forced him actually, to give analysis and prediction about this FIFA World Cup 2010, which in my opinion was a little different. Besides five teams who had always been seeded teams from developed European countries, there was one country from Eastern Europe, six Latin countries, two Asian countries, and one African country in this round. Apart from those five West European countries, all these countries were developing countries. And the last one was the USA, a country that favored baseball, American football, and basketball more.
Here was his analysis, more or less:
Any country that qualified for the World Cup usually was a country which had a good building system. Besides that, it also had a good state system (in this case, socio-political) and certainly had a good economic system. Cameroon had once surprised the world. Because, as a developing country and had been considered poor, they had qualified into the group stage of the World Cup 1994, showing that football wasn’t only about system, but there were also talents that had to be observed there. So, the composition of teams in this round of sixteen was actually just ordinary.
It seemed rather unusual because there were some names that we had not heard for a long time when they all were suitable countries. For example, Ghana. Although it was from a poor continent, you could say that its economic growth was slightly better than other African countries. A good system in the USA made this country easy to build a new tradition of football as it had happened in South Korea and Japan since 2002. Becoming a host of FIFA World Cup 1994 had been a lobby of USA in building that tradition (this was also done by South Africa, which succeeded in becoming a host in 2010 because actually football tradition in South Africa was not as strong as in other African countries. As a British Commonwealth country, its leading sport was cricket).
As for the Latin countries, well, everybody knew that they were really great in football. And, almost all Latin countries that qualified in this round of 16 had hosted the World Cup and had become a champion. It had been started with Uruguay as a host of the first World Cup and had even become ‘the first world champion’ in 1930. Then, in 1950 Brazil had hosted the tournament and it had been won by Uruguay again. Chile had hosted the 1962 FIFA World Cup and the tournament had been won by Brazil. The 1970 FIFA World Cup had taken place in Mexico and had been won by Brazil for the third time. It had taken place there again in 1978 and had been won by Argentina. It had also raised the name of Diego Maradona. The 1978 FIFA World Cup had been held in Argentina, which had also become a champion.
Meanwhile, Slovakia had become an independent state on 1 January 1993 after the dissolution of Czechoslovakia. Czechoslovakia had dissolved into the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic. Czechoslovakia had once become a great football country in Eastern Europe, in addition to Yugoslavia, Russia and Bulgaria.
One might say that all of them certainly had a sustainable local league that surely built the football culture in each country. (Would Indonesia have it?) So, Ladies and Gentlemen, these would become more interesting and lively shows, and hopefully it inspired the Indonesian football.
As for the prediction as the outcome of the interview tonight was:
The round of 16 would allow South Korea, Ghana, Germany, Netherlands, Brazil, Japan and Spain to get through to the quarterfinals. Next, in semi-finals there would be Ghana, Germany, Netherlands and Spain. And then the Netherlands and Germany would become finalists.
I considered my husband’s prediction to be very very subjective of him, who hoped for a spectacle of the Netherlands’s revenge against Germany over their defeat in 1974. At that time, Johan Cruyff had led the Netherlands to win the Euro Cup in 1972, but surprisingly, his team had been beaten by Franz Beckenbauer and his friends (who had not been favored) in FIFA World Cup 1974.
What I meant with very subjective was proven. When I just started this article, Uruguay successfully defeated South Korea by a score of 2-1. And when this article was almost completed, Ghana successfully won 2-1 over the USA (for this one, my husband’s prediction was correct).
It meant Uruguay would face Ghana in quarterfinals on 2nd of July at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth. And if Uruguay and Netherlands, which was my husband’s favorite team, kept advancing, then they would meet in semi-finals. In 1974 World Cup in West Germany, the Netherlands had beaten Uruguay so that this first world champion had knocked out of the Cup in the first round.
Who would know? Because a ball wasn’t square. The possibility that could be produced by that thing could not be predicted mathematically, People! Just look at France and Italy, two favorite teams which were eliminated in the initial stage of the competition.