Sunday, 15 June 2008

Cervantes and Soccer - Euro 2008

Can you spot the Spanish flag? How many other European flags can you spot?

In the opening moments of the match between Spain and Sweden tonight, an attempt at the Swedish goal by Spanish striker Fernando Torres, saw banners being waved in the stands by delirious Spanish fans (June 14).

One banner was actually a silhouette of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza - the characters in Cervantes' classic novel set in Central Spain Don Quixote (Madrid, 1605). Not bad I said to myself. Now literature too has a place in the sporting arena - that too at Innsbruck, Austria.

But the EUphoria is all about culture and nationalism isn't it? What with the national anthems being sung with gusto at the commencement of the matches? Teams bring the histories of their nations to the ground. If not then how is one to explain the awe for an insipid Germany against a resurgent Croatia (June 12)? On the ground Croatia - a nonentity perhaps politically on the world stage - was a better side. Yet, accolades go to Germany. It cavils to listen to even the commentators pander to the reputation of the 'greats' and forget about the proven performance of lesser teams in front of them. This regardless of Ballack's yellow and his teammate's red.

The halo effect did not help France either. Thrashed by the Dutch 4-1, the evening left Thierry clutching at straws (June 14). In formidabe form the Vikings laid even the world champions Italy low in their opening Group C 'Group of Death' match 3-0 (June 10).

Once the game of the poor now football, for this season, becomes the highest index of achievement. The European championship offers a level playing field for all countries in free and fair spirit. Merit alone decides the victor. And this decision is played out in front of millions - beamed as it is by television - around the globe. Which is why a small nation like Croatia can get away by defeating Germany. Histories and cultures apart.

The exhilaration which the European cup spawns is now given a fillip with the political formation of the EU. Tshirts, jerseys, bandanas, cloaks, headgear - it's a virtual carnival out there! Now is the time to flaunt all those tees of the European national teams - and declare your loyalty! This is the time to sit down with friends, and watch your heroes in action. A great sense of camaraderie - usually male bonding - develops among those watching the game and rooting for their team.

Watching Portugal (read Ronaldo) slice through the Czech defense 3-1 (June 11) with my Goan friends was a great experience. In the course of our lusty cheering on of Deco and Christiano I realised we were using Konkani rather than English (or Portuguese) to egg on the Portuguese squad. 'Maar re', 'Ani ek maar' ['Shoot', 'Shoot one more goal'] took me back to childhood days when I used to watch football matches by dad's side in Goa.
It took me back to my cultural and racial roots. Yet the opening fervent prayer was always Forca Portugal! [Go for it, Portugal!] in the Portuguese language. This melange of languages gave variety and depth to the evening where in a short space of the time of the match we keyed in to the resonances of many languages and their significances.
Football unites fans of all ages. 'In Torre-fic form' I messaged feverishly after Torres cut through the Swedish defence and scored. 'VIVA' my 14- year-old nephew in Goa sms'd back.

Though the cameras have fought shy of pretty women in the crowd this time - maybe that was a guideline - concentrate on the game!- after the IPL cheerleaders fiasco -- the matches are thoroughly engrossing.

I for one went scurrying to my atlas to look up where exactly Romania was before their match with Italy (13 June). Yes it was the home of Dracula, in Transylvania and of Vlad the impaler but . . . My knowledge is better now and at home in Bucharest.
Pix credits: www.euro2008journey.com; Ronaldo scores for the Red Cross at http://en. euro2008.uefa.com; Classic Don Quixote and Sancho, Blue steel figurine, http://www.tiendadedonquijote.com

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