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The World Cup 2010
“The best birthday present”, I muttered to myself in disgust while walking home from school one day. What a dull title for an essay. I wondered what Mr. Sampson was thinking.
Then it suddenly hit me. How could I have forgotten it? I was ashamed at myself for taking so long to remember. What about last year’s very belated birthday present from my parents? Wasn’t that the best present anyone could wish for? And then I was lost in my most vivid memory, re-living it without a second’s hesitation…
It dawned a bright morning-or afternoon to be precise. I slept throughout the morning, trying to recover the sleep I had lost on the long plane journey during the night. I also slept as much as thrill would allow me to catch up with the jet-lag, knowing that I would need the energy that night.
We left the hotel after a light meal, and found our pre-booked taxi waiting for us. Excitement was building up in me, and soon, inside my body would be a roaring inferno. I kept asking my dad for the tickets- making sure they were still there; that they had not disappeared into thin air- every five minutes, while the taxi driver, obviously in no particular hurry, was chatting animatedly with my father. I sensed that he, too, was losing his patience.
Finally, we arrived at the South African National Stadium, which, needless to say, was packed. I had never seen so many people at one go, but somehow, I did not panic. I kept close to my father until we found our seats, perfect for viewing the match. I couldn’t believe it. I was finally here. Here to witness a historic event. The most exhilarating sporting event in four years: the World Cup Final. My heart was beating so fast, I wondered whether it had stopped.
Although both my father and I are Italian football supporters through and through, we were sitting amongst Dutch fans today, since unfortunately, Italy didn’t make to the final. After Italy’s elimination from the Cup, I immediately sided with the Netherland’s team for in it were some of my favourite players. They were not favoured to end up in the final, it was against all odds, but still, here I was, watching my second-favourite team assemble into a line in front of the crowd.
I hadn’t noticed that it was already quarter to nine. I felt overwhelmed when I caught sight of both the Dutch and the Spanish players. Sneijder, Robben, Iniesta, Villa, Puyol… My eyes threatened to pop out of my skull. Now I was feeling that maddening fire inside me, burning my bones, making my legs as unstable as jelly. Both the Spanish and the Dutch anthems were played by a live orchestra: the captain of each team exchanged national flags: flipped the coin and then, the British referee, Howard Webb, blew the whistle, signalling the start of this momentous event.
I was astounded at the silence that fell with the whistle. I had never imagined, not in my quietest dreams, that 84,490 people could make so little noise. Well, the noise did come eventually, when fifteen minutes into the game, the referee penalised Van Persie, from Holland’s side with a yellow card for fouling on a Spanish player. While the Spanish supporters booed, the Dutch supporters groaned. However, revenge came shortly afterwards, when Puyol, the Spanish captain hit Kuyt in the thigh. The match went on this way, so that until half-time, two other players, one from each team were booked.
The tension was increasing inside this jam-packed stadium, and at certain intervals, I’m sure you could have heard a pin drop, while everybody held their breath when one attack got too close to the opponent’s goalposts. Both teams were playing their utmost; both exceptional. As the end of the match approached, both teams were also showing signs of stress. The fouls increased. Even so, both teams pressured each other with feints, special moves and unexpected tactics. While the Spanish had a very powerful attack, the Dutch held strong at the back, with Stekelenburg showing exceptional skill between the goalposts.
The ninety minutes were up, but still no goals. For once, I felt relieved that the Italians weren’t in this final. The stress would have been too much to handle. Supporters from both sides of the pitch were singing with all the energy they could muster, urging their own team forward and trying to boost the players’ morale. Both teams were desperate to take the cup home for the first time in both countries’ history.
The extra-time started, and just after a few minutes, Heitinga, a Dutch footballer, got kicked out of the match for fouling twice. Holland were down to ten players. This sent uproars from both sides of the stadium, both furious, but for obviously different reasons. Ramos, the Spanish player fouled upon was badly injured. Despite this, the Dutch supporters saw Heitinga’s red card as an over-reactions from the referee…
Then, as I remembered what had followed this decisive red card, I returned to the present. I had arrived in front of my house. Still, I would have snapped out of my day-dream anyway. The memory is still painfully disappointing. Iniesta, a Spanish midfielder, managed to get the ball past Stekelenburg’s capable hands with minutes to spare, securing Spain’s first win of this prestigious cup, while the Dutch went home empty-handed.