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Posted by Eduardo Alvarez on 07/10/2010

It’s been a very bizarre week.

After spending most of the World Cup in Joburg, the fact that I had to fly back home and watch the semi-final in front of the TV, rather than at the stadium, felt weird and frustrating, even though that was exactly what I did two years ago in Austria, and ended up working quite well.

Then Spain played a match as close to perfection as I have seen them play in a while, defeating a worthy and traditional opponent and reaching their first World Cup final in history. I have to confess that I didn’t know what to do to celebrate. A couple of years ago, all this was well beyond my wildest dreams. Actually, some of my wildest dreams, such as dating Beyoncita or driving an Aston Martin, seemed much more feasible than seeing Spain reach that Final.

So, what did I do? Just went out with a couple of friends, had a few beers, spoke about the match for hours, and went to sleep. I never imagined that the celebration of a semi-final win would be so low-key, contained, timid, more when the victory had been such a convincing one. But the fact is that I was already thinking of the final. I needed to get back there no matter how.

Then I started to look for a flight frantically. No, I am not such an organised adult, and had made no flight reservations in case Spain won. Obviously, at this stage of the game no direct flights were available, and the few stopover alternatives were stunningly expensive. But I kept trying: from late, late Wednesday night to late, late Thursday I spent more time in travel websites than eating, sleeping or working combined. Found nothing.

My level of anxiety went through the roof. To add insult to injury, my best two friends from high school, who nowadays live in different cities and countries, were going to make it to the match. I’ve known them both for over 30 years, and ours is one of those friendships ‘Blood on Blood’ style. The three of us watched together Euro08’s Final in Vienna, and even though we don’t get to see each other very often, we are still extremely close.

Football has been one of our strongest links since our careers took us to diverse geographies. Once or twice a year we meet to watch derbies or Champions League matches in Madrid, so how could I not watch the Final, Spain’s World Cup Final, with them?

And, of course, there’s the superstitious side of my potential absence: they both sent me dozens of emails with titles such as ‘You’ll jinx us if you don’t make it’, ‘This will be on your shoulders’, ‘We’re as good as the octopus’, etc.

I barely slept on Thursday night. Kept refreshing the screen of my laptop restlessly checking for flights, with no luck. Read every single piece (soccernet, Spanish media, even some Dutch newspapers in English) about the match and its main characters. Listened to Shakira singing ‘Waka Waka’ about one zillion times (I also believe the song is a good luck charm, by the way, and makes me feel at the vibrating Mandela Square just after two notes). God, I HAD to be there, I couldn’t miss this one.

And then, on Friday morning at 10am, when I was about to give up, a sensible option appeared. It was a direct flight on the way to Joburg, with one reasonable stopover coming back, and for a price that will have me eating rice and beans and drinking tap water (which, by the way, could be a blessing in disguise) for the next six months, but that at least it was something I can manage to pay.

Given that I was going to fly that same day, the website didn’t allow me to pay for the flight online (go figure). Wrote down the reservation number, packed quickly, went to the airport, found the airline desk, and as I was getting my credit card off my wallet, the attendant said: ‘Your lucky day, señor. We just had an opening to come back directly as well, which makes the trip cheaper’.

And right then, for some reason, it all dawned on me. Believe me, the fact that all of a sudden I could avoid one stopover and save 200USD was not the relevant bit – although I’ll admit that I did run a quick calculation of how many G&Ts that money can buy me in Joburg, and well, it’s a whopping number.

Suddenly I realised, and when I say ‘I realised’, I mean that my brain fully understood, that I was going to have the immense privilege to witness arguably the biggest football match in the history of my country live with my best two friends from childhood.

The last 28 years of our national team quickly passed through my mind: the 82 fiasco, when my father told me to root for Brazil because ‘we’ll always be crap playing football’; 1986, when Eloy missed the penalty kick against Belgium; 1990, when Butragueño’s header hit the post, and then Stoijkovic scored a gorgeous free kick with the help of Michel; 1994, when Luis Henrique ended the match with a broken nose bleeding in front of Sandor (expletive) Phul; 1998, when Zubi gave the match away against Nigeria; 2002, when we were robbed by Egyptian ref Al (expletive) Gandhour; and 2006, when our tactical naivety was too evident against France.

I lived most of those moments with those two friends. Those memories went through my brain in a fraction of a second, bringing back the accumulated weight of frustration and sense of unfairness they implied, in front of the sales attendant. But no, this time we’d made it to the final…

I started crying. I sobbed for about 20 seconds. It was such a pathetic and nonsensical scene that somehow I thought of Lloyd and Harry weeping while they were watching that Bell South commercial in ‘Dumb and Dumber’, and immediately started laughing out loud while my face was still full of tears. What a sight…

The other customers couldn’t understand what was going on, so I just mumbled: ‘I am going to watch the Final’. They didn’t need more explanations. Suddenly I was surrounded by plenty of smiles and got quite a few taps on my shoulder. Some yelling broke out: ‘VAMOS, VAMOS, A GANAR’ (Come on, come on, let’s win). With the disarming smile of three-year-old who just got a birthday present, I signed the receipt, checked in, and boarded the flight.

It’s been a very bizarre week, indeed.

Comments

Posted by Merengón Impaciente on 07/10/2010

Enhorabuena, it's going to be a great memory.

I already swallowed all my doubts, fears and criticisms. I'm just eager to enjoy the final (our World Cup final, it still sounds unreal). Whatever the outcome, things have already changed, no more underachievers, no more "maldición de cuartos"... we're not Cleveland sports fans anymore.

But it has to be.

PS: You just made me remember Petey the Parakeet. Still laughing.

Ed Alvarez: I've been singing 'mockingbird' since I landed...

Posted by kj on 07/10/2010

ed, that was a wonderful story.

now on to the final!!!!

VAMOS!!!

Posted by rob alvarez on 07/10/2010

Ed, your recap on the last 28 years of supporting Spain reminds me remarkably of my own experiences wacthing previous world cups. Spain playing in the final still sounds sort of surreal to me as well. It will probably take a while to get used to "Spain - World Champions". I am growing more confident about Spain's chances all the time, and between you and your mates and Paul el Pulpo, I think we have all the good luck charms we need.
This last blog was hilarious, now I'm singing 'mockingbird' - can't wait to hear how you partied after watching Spain win the final, surely it won't be "low-key, contained, timid". Hell, even Del Bosque will have to cut loose, one would think!

Ed Alvarez: we need one more win, rob, one more win...

Posted by Michael4USA on 07/10/2010

Great story Eduardo. The Dumb and Dumber reference was simply superb. Use that one all the time.

WE LANDED ON THE MOON!!

Posted by Aussiebolo on 07/11/2010

Ay Edu.......that story bought a tear to my eye, very similar to my experiences as well. We probably wont realise the significance of this event for a good 10 years, but this is a BIG moment in the history of Spanish and World football. You are very fortunate to see it live. All the best y.....

viva España !!!

Posted by susans on 07/16/2010

Finding your blog during Euro 2008 was like meeting a long lost family member, and I've followed it ever since. Reading this particular post on the morning of the final in Barcelona brought tears to my eyes. I thought I'd share with you my post about our family's world cup experience (which includes a link to yours) at www.blogschu.com. Also, my mother wants me to ask if you write anywhere in spanish. All the best!

Ed Alvarez: thanks a lot for your comment. And no, so far I have not written in Spanish, but I should start soon...

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About

Eduardo Álvarez has written about Spanish football for Soccernet since Euro 2008 in Austria, where he witnessed a rare Spanish victory. He'll follow the Team Formerly Known as The Armada to South Africa, and will bring you all the news and gossips from the Spanish camp.

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