Tuesday, June 24, 2014


Okay, I'm behind on my blog again... and no one in surprised. I said a while back that I would blog about the Champions League Championship, but I never got around to it. And now the world cup is in full swing so I figured I would just combine both entries and dedicate one blog post to Spain's religious obsession... fútbol.

To be honest until this year I was just sort of a casual soccer fan, like most Americans. I basically only watched soccer in those brief moments when I was traveling abroad and when the World Cup and Olympics happens to come around. So... not often. Not even last year was I really into the soccer scene. Maybe it had to do with the fact that my three best friends were all females who weren't big fans. Well this year, my two best friends happen to be big soccer fans (probably has to do with their families' Greek heritage) and so I started watching with them. I used to be one of those people that found soccer to be pretty slow-moving and dull and now I can't remember why! Sure, there are slow games but most games are thrilling! Even some 0-0 games are nail-biters, and that's something I'm not sure I can say about other sports. Considering soccer is the most watched sport in the world, I don't know what took me (and what is taking Americans) so long to catch on.

A country that caught on a long, long time ago is Spain. Spain has a long history of fútbol and the sport has turned into a religious affair for most Spaniards that I know. I got my first taste of the fútbol fandom when I attended my first Real Madrid game back in January. Although it was just a casual "Copa del Rey" game against Osasuna, a pretty average team, I could feel the passion in the atmosphere. People literally live for this here. Although I can kind of compare fútbol here to (American) football at Saint John's University or basketball at Duke, it's not quite this same. People go "loco" for it here. After that first game, I was hooked. Not only was it fun to watch, but I began to feel even more connected to the Spanish culture, as cheesy as it sounds.

From January on my friends and I would make sure to catch Real Madrid games on TV when we could.  Real Madrid is one of two teams in Madrid.  There is another team, Atlético Madrid, who is also very good. I won't go into detail about the two teams, but basically Real Madrid is the older team with more history, more money and more star players while Atlético Madrid are the newer team with a smaller budget and less stars but definitely a force to be reckoned with.  Another thing that needs to be understood is that during the year, these teams play in more than one league (unlike US teams who only play in the NBA or NFL). The three leagues these teams play in are the Copa del Rey (King's Cup), La Liga (The Spanish League) and UEFA Champions League. The Copa del Rey is the least competitive for all Spanish associated clubs (1st and 2nd tier) and functions in knock-out fashion until there is one winner. La Liga is only the top 20 teams in Spain and functions on a point system; whoever has the most points at the end of the season wins. Then there is the Champions League, the most competitive, which consists of the best club teams in Europe and also ends the year with a knock out tournament.

Well, it was a very exciting year to be in Madrid as Real Madrid beat Barcelona and won the Copa del Rey, Atlético Madrid won La Liga, and both teams ended up playing in the Champions League Championship game. It was the first time in history that two teams from the same CITY played each other in the championship. Madrid was buzzing in the weeks leading up to the game. Even City Hall put up giant posters for each team. The famous government building in Puerta del Sol posted posters with a sign in between that read "Gane quien gane, gana Madrid" which translates to "Whoever wins, wins, Madrid wins." Something that made this game an even bigger deal was that Real Madrid was going for their 10th championship title with the Chamapions League also known as "La Décima" which they would be the first team to do it.

Celebrating in Cibeles
Game day finally rolled around on May 24th and Madrid was full of tension. Some friends and I made some game day food and then headed to a bar to watch the game. The game was a nail-biter! Atlético Madrid scored first early on in the game and after that no one seemed to be able to score! Until, Sergio Ramos of Real Madrid finally scored in the 90th minute during injury time. Then in overtime it took 20 brutal minutes before Real Madrid's Gareth Bale scored followed by two more goals in the remaining 10 minutes of overtime just to show off, ending the game in 4-1. My friends and I hugged other Real Madrid fans in the bar, complete strangers, some even kissed us on the cheek and we went wild! We all headed to Plaza Cibeles where Real Madrid fans traditionally go to celebrate. The police were ready as thousands and thousands of fans poured into the giant plaza. We had to go through a security check where they were searching for alcohol, fireworks, etc. We spent about an hour celebrating like crazy with other fans but we quickly tired out around 2am. The Real Madrid team (who played in nearby Lisbon), got a plane directly back to Madrid and came straight from the airport on a fan bus around 6am, but unfortunately we didn't make it until then. We found out later that the crowds had gotten so big that 200 injuries were reported. Yikes! The next day we got to briefly see the team drive by in a bus on their victory parade, unfortunately it was a closed bus but just knowing they were in there was exciting. Overall, an unforgettable experience.

Fast forward until a week and a half ago when the World Cup began. Once again, Spain was buzzing with excitement. Not only did Spain win the last World Cup, but they one the last two Euro Cups as well. You could say, the Spanish soccer team were becoming legendary. Another World Cup title would be unprecedented. Although Spain weren't the favorites heading into the cup, they were still ranked 4th out of the 32 teams. Everyone was so excited heading into the first game against the Netherlands and then, disaster struck. Spain looked like nervous school boys who had never played together and goalie Iker Casillas (once considered the best goalie in the world) was panicked and flustered. Netherlands murdered Spain 5-1. Moral was very low after that game, but we all thought it was just a fluke. Then, Spain choked again against Chile and ended their chances of making it to the knock out round. The country was shocked, devastated and absolutely crushed. But, everyone agreed that they didn't even deserve to win the way the played. Spain gained a little bit of their pride back in the third game beating Australia 3-0, but it was too little too late.

Although Spain's out, there is still World Cup excitement everywhere! Lots of South Americans live in Madrid, and nearly every night the bars are packed with Colombians, Ecuadorians, Brazilians, etc. still fighting for there teams! It's been a blast to be here for all of this soccer excitement, but hopefully USA will pass on through to the knock out round and I can cheer for team USA with my fellow yankees!

I can't believe I'm down to my last week in Madrid! It's very bittersweet as I'm still so happy here in Madrid but I've gotta say I can't wait to see my friends and family. 7 days!

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