June 22nd, 2006

me: wrong side of the mirror

Day 8: Fifth and last game: Brazil v Japan

Nippon! Nippon!

As soon as we finished our coffee after a much-needed eleven hours of sleep, we hopped on the ICE train to Dortmund for the Brazil (4) v Japan (1) game. Lucky enough to get paired seats, I wrote in my diary and Marco read his football magazine. On arrival, we spent a little time on conspicuous consumption, namely, a ridiculous number of football memorabilia in the form of t-shirts for ourselves and for gifts. At the register, we received a coupon for 10 euros off our next visit. Having been passed on by the gentleman in front of us, we continued the karmic cycle by gifting ours to the Japanese family behind us.

We watched the Italy (2) v Czech Republic (0) match on the patio in front of a bar near the Fan Fast. Once again, I was upset by the loss, particularly since Nedved had a blinding game but, lacking Koller, no one up front to help. The Italians play the type of game I hate – vicious to their opponents but falling down at the drop of a hat. Their defenders should get Oscars for acting. Best Supporting to the pony-tailed Camoranesi.

My spirits weren't high when we got on the U-bahn to the stadium. We boarded with a group of manic Brazilians who sang and bounced the train car all the way to the stop so I couldn't help smiling. I had expected the Brazilian fans to be comparable in volume and enthusiasm to the Argentinians, but the Japanese blew me away. Whole sections of the stadium were solid blocks of blue. Authentic team shirts, too, by the looks of them, with names and numbers. Their cheering was adorable. Girly screams and "Ni-ppon" chants, preceded by three claps and arms extended with palms out to the pitch. The older lady behind us screeched "Yesyesyesyesyes!" every time the Japanese team made a drive in from mid-field. The legendary obsession with photography and video recording wasn't overstated either. A guy in front of us did nothing but alternate between his camera phone, his point-and-shoot digital and a small video recorder for the whole game, sometimes with two simultaneously. We were quite high up in the stands, four rows from the very back, but also nearly on the centerline. A bird's eye view, although nicely unobstructed due to the steep angle of the stairs.

The first goal by the Japanese whipped their drummers and fans into a frenzy. It finally woke up the Brazilian team, who sleepwalked through the first half of the game. Ronaldo barely moved. (I'm christening him Gordito ("little fatty").) He didn't deserve two goals. His teammates did all of the work, especially Ronaldinho, who was playing far more centrally and deeper than he normally does. Painfully slowly, Gordito lumbered between the penalty area and midfield, occasionally making a short sprint to try and score a goal. The 4-1 thrashing was unfair to the Japanese, who threw their whole hearts into the game. The substitution of the Brazilian keeper could also be viewed as a slap in the face of the opposition, although as Marco pointed out, it may have simply been that the coach just wanted to give him a cap.

We met a pair of Marco's friends at the game, the people to whom he sold our two extra tickets. They were so excited to be there. I hadn't realized that maybe we'd become complacent after our four previous matches until Nandini pointed it out. Marco had complained about our seats to them. They thought our seats were brilliant. We also calculated that we'd seen 17 goals over five games. Yes, I think we were spoiled.

After the game, we hung out near the Fan Fest and drank beer with all the partying Brazilians until Arto and Nandini had to catch their train. I traded my Czech Republic shirt for a club shirt with a Brazilian guy who gushed over Nedved and his love for the country. I would have given the shirt to him except it was obviously far too small. On the ICE train back to Köln we met a group of happy drunken English people who seemed to find us most intriguing. They tried to convince us that we needed to spend more time north of, say, Warwick to see the "real" England. However, they were severely divided on where we ought to go. Lincoln got one vote, Manchester another and Liverpool another. We parted ways at the station, still buzzing from the excitement of the games.