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.