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World Cup This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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   A native of Iran, my father loves to watch soccer gamesmore than anything. Every Sunday afternoon, he lies on the couch and watchesmuscular people kick a ball around a field. This used to irritate the rest of us,who wanted to watch something else. I was completely incapable of getting my way,for every time I uttered a noise, my father would wave his hand and signal for meto stop. I was never able to grasp why my talking disturbed him, since all thegames were broadcast in Spanish and he does not understand a singleword.

In the summer of 1994, my father spent a great deal of time in frontof the television. I have a vague recollection of what he tried to explain to methat summer, something about World Cup, something about how critical it was forme to watch. Critical? Give me a break, I was seven years old. I wanted to dig mynails in mud, not watch sweaty men chasing a ball. My father failed to force meto watch one game. On the final day of the World Cup, I remember my youngneighbors flying out of their houses, screaming and cheering because Brazil hadwon. Supposedly, that was a big deal.

As time went by, I began to look atfootball, as it is called elsewhere, with a different attitude. I realized thatthe soccer ball holds a power, a command, that drives everyone to kick it. Ilearned that soccer was a strategy of the mind, not of the foot.

Thisnew view of soccer led me to discover the game for myself. Every time my familypacked the picnic basket, I remembered to bring my father's soccer ball. At thepark, I would declare that I would choose the teams. It was always me and mybrother against Dad. I initiated the game with a bundle of confidence, using myten-year-old hands to push uneven sticks into the ground for the goal. After amere 20 minutes, the score was 32-0, and I would be ready to give up. My fatherhas been playing soccer for 20 years; I'll let you decide who scored 32 goals.

I played soccer any chance I had. Whether it was with the neighboringkids, my mom or during gym class, I always managed to get a good kick at theball. I went through a phase where I was obsessed with playing goalie. Being ableto terminate that ball brought about much festivity. At another stage, I enjoyedplaying striker. I had a passion for witnessing my right foot send the ballthrough the goal. Then again, I liked playing defense. It was all good.

Inthe summer of 1998, France hosted the World Cup. Four years before, my father hadhopelessly urged me to observe this oh-so-great event. This time, I heated myplate of shrimp fried rice and glued my enthusiastic brown eyes to the televisionscreen for the astonishing match between Iran and the U.S. My mother came homefrom visiting at the hospital as quickly as possible to catch the game. Howdishonorable; her best friend just had a baby, and she dashed home to watch asoccer game.

Every day there was a match or two, but one team seized myattention: Brazil. It was then that I learned about the greats, Pele and Ronaldo.They played beautifully. With good heads on their shoulders and a courageous yetcautious attitude, they made it to the finals, ready to win the title for Brazilfor the fifth time. I wanted to know every nook and cranny of thisteam.

Ronaldo, the greatest soccer player in the world, scored twice inWorld Cup '98. I recall the thrill I felt watching him run around the soccerfield, being hugged by his teammates, and hearing the reporter announce hisGOOOOAL! It was his posture, the way he carried himself, that I admired. I lovedhow he and the rest of the Brazilian players would hug the opposing team after agame. I know you should formally do that, but their delight was justincomparable. I was so infatuated with this team I actually dreamed I borrowed"How to Speak Portuguese" books from the library.

The finalgame was introduced by a hyped performance by Ricky Martin. Appropriately, hesang the "Cup of Life." Impatiently, I awaited the result of thisultimate game. I'll save you the devastating details: Brazil lost. I think it wasmore agonizing for me than for the players themselves.

I don't think myfather noticed my gradual interest in soccer, or how I absorbed every bit ofinformation about it. I guess he assumes that everyone likes and plays soccer. Ittook a while, but now on Sunday afternoons, I sit by my father on our big browncouch, watching our sport. If I'm lucky there's a game on in which Ronaldo isplaying.

I was amazed when I read about Ronaldo's struggles of growing upwith an alcoholic father, and parents who divorced. He developed a love forsoccer at an early age and didn't waste his time and money on alcohol or drugslike his friends. Instead, he played soccer. He believed he would be a greatstar, though no one had faith in him. No one but himself, that is. The fact thatthe solution to his problems was found in soccer made him devote his time to hispassion. I love that about him. Eventually, his friends and family recognized histalent. Don't take my word for it; he has won many titles including most valuableplayer. Yeah, man, you wear your number nine, you wear your yellow shirt and blueshorts. Show them what you're made of!

People say I'm crazy for feelingso strongly about someone I've never met. Teens today never met Martin LutherKing, Jr. or John F. Kennedy, but they still admire their impact on society.That's how I feel about Ronaldo. He has greatly influenced my life. Even today,when I turn on the radio and hear "Cup of Life," it still burns meinside to envision that final game in 1998. Quickly, however, I replay themoments when Ronaldo blew the audience kisses, and smiled with that successfulgleam in his eyes. I hope and pray that I'll have the chance to meet thisremarkable man, and the rest of the Brazilian soccer players. You know, those"How to Speak Portuguese" books might come in handy yet.




This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.





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