I know it’s bad blogging practice to write about a major sporting event so far after it’s ended. It’s even more out of date now that my city has been consumed with World Series championship fever. But my Oaxaca state travelogue wouldn’t be complete without including the World Cup.
At first, I felt a little guilty about spending prime travel time watching soccer. But the games actually enhanced my trip, and the fact that I was traveling enhanced watching the games, regardless of wins or losses. And, as it truly involves the world, the World Cup always goes deeper and beyond the actual matches.
I loved Mexico’s energy for the World Cup as well as that of fellow travelers who were rooting for home teams or teams of places they’d visited and had an affinity for. And I especially loved the excitement of those who rooted for the underdog and for the symbolism of a “third world” team winning against a “first world” team. Those hours I spent watching the games were full of camaraderie, playful rivalry, and lively conversation. I watched many matches, but a few stood out more than others:
Ghana (0) vs. Germany (1)
The afternoon I first met the macrame hippies in Mazunte, my purpose for going over there was to scope out a location to watch Ghana vs. Germany. I found a bar/restaurant where it was showing, and came back to watch. Two Mexican guys saw me sit down and asked where I was from. “Ghana?”
“Yes,” I replied, without bothering to explain that I was Ghanaian-American. They smiled and shook raised fists in the air in solidarity.
There weren’t too many people in the restaurant. Me and a German guy were the only two stayed for the duration of the game. We constantly exchange glances, glares or gloating depending on the situation. The one thing we shared was our frustration when the satellite got cut off at inopportune moments and took awhile to be restored.
In the end, Germany beat Ghana 1-0 and dejected, I went back to my hotel. Not one to follow the technical details of sports, I didn’t realize that Ghana was still in it and moving onto the next round. I starting getting text messages asking me who I’d root for and I was confused. I eventually figured out that Ghana was indeed moving on and playing the United States next.
Ghana (2) vs. USA (1)
I’m not sure why people ask me who I’ll root for when it comes to Ghana vs. US, as if I’d be conflicted about my two home countries. The answer is simple and requires no thought: Ghana! When it comes to this pairing, blood and heart win over land.
For this game, I met up with Sarah, Jorge and some of their friends at a restaurant in Oaxaca. Sarah was also rooting for Ghana, and it was nice to have at least one ally by my side. During this game, I had proud memories of 2006, the first time Ghana played against the United States and won. I remember people’s reactions to it in the U.S., the confusion over a small African country they’d never heard of beating the United States at something. I wanted Ghana to recreate those moments, move on in the Cup, and solidify Ghana’s place as a contender in something worldwide, even if it was just a sport.
It was a intense game, one that had me practically falling off my seat the entire time. Ghana scored quickly, the US eventually scored on a penalty kick and then it went into overtime where Ghana scored one more. When the clock finally stopped, I stood up raised my hands in the air and shouted, “Yes!”
I turned around and no one was standing with me. Many dirty looks. It was only then that I realized that the crowded restaurant was full of expats and travelers from the United States.
One of them, a Mexican-American man, looked very sad but broke the silence by saying, “Can you at least promise me you’ll root for Mexico when they play Argentina?”
“Of course,” I replied. I left soon after to take my excitement to a more receptive environment.
Mexico (1) vs. Argentina (3)
This was another game I watched with Sarah and Jorge and friends. It was uncomfortable to watch. After the first debatable goal from Argentina, it went downhill. Mexico scored one redeeming goal to lessen the blow, but still were eliminated from a World Cup by Argentina for the fifth time.
Later, on day of that game, I kept seeing people playing soccer in the streets. I came across a group of people who looked to be university age. They were playing instruments and kicking a soccer ball around in the middle of a road. They saw me and waved. I chatted with them, and then they asked me to take a picture with me. They crowded around me for the picture, before I said bye to them and went on my way.
After having dinner with another traveler that night, we got caught up in a massive rain storm that quickly flooded the streets. Still, we came across a few guys playing soccer in the streets in the middle of the storm. Maybe it was a way to relieve their dissappointment or maybe they were all practicing to become the next soccer star with the hopes of one day making it further in the World Cup.
Ghana (2) vs. Uruguay (4)
Many months later, this game still makes me cringe. I scoped out a location that had satellite TV and found out that a large restaurant called Mayordomo would be airing it. I went early to settle into a good spot and order lunch. Once again, a few patrons asked me where I was from. They smiled and told me they were also rooting for Ghana.
For awhile, I took up a large table with no problem, but then it started to get crowded. There was another person sitting alone at a large table, and they consolidated us by asking him to move to my table. He was from the U.S. and teaching English in Oaxaca. Eventually, a few other expats he knew showed up and joined us at our table.
This game was not good for my blood pressure, it went on and on, with too much time where it could’ve swung either way. 0-0. Ghana scores 1. Uruguay scores 1. And then that fateful moment came at the end, the should’ve been goal by Ghana, blocked by the hand of Uruguayan. I almost lost my lunch. And then the missed penalty kick by Ghana and the penalty shoot out and looks of agony on the Black Stars faces after they lost the shoot out.
I was grateful to have a group of people at my table by the end of this match, it helped to distract me from my disappointment. We began an animated discussion in the last part of the game that continued for awhile after it ended. We started with the topic, “Is the World Cup about much more than sports?” One person, an Australian, didn’t think so. And then she saw the hard-to-watch reaction of Ghanaians after the game and was swayed. Later, we moved onto other subjects such as Euro-South America and whether or not the United States has a culture that is distinct and separate from those of the cultures that it’s comprised of.
But then it was time to go and the soul-crushing game was back on my mind. The people who were also rooting for Ghana smiled sadly at me as I walked out. My team, the last African team remaining in the first African World Cup, was eliminated. Four more years for another chance.