The soccer match between Italy and Romania was quite exciting. There were many chances for both sides to score, though near misses, bad luck and brilliant goalkeeping only allowed for one goal apiece.
I arrived in Zurich the night before the game. There were a number of Italian and Romanian fans on the train, too. The Italians were generally the more friendly of the two groups. (Also, they generally were more proficient at English, which likely explains why they were friendlier, or seemed that way.).
They often invited me to cheer along with them (yes, the team cheers started 24 hours before the actual game began) and were happy and willing to tell me anything I wanted to know about the azzurri, as the Italian called their team, except, of course, why they were beat 3-0 by Holland a few days before.
A few of them acknowledged the persistent strain of racism in their beloved sport. We talked briefly about the now famous “head-butting” incident that marred an otherwise brilliant World Cup final in 2006, which Italy eventually won. Although what was said by Matterazi to provoke Zidane likely will never be revealed, speculation often yields that it was racist in nature (with Zidane’s parents being Algerian immigrants, though many other theories abound).
Furthermore, I asked if they believed there would be any incidents tomorrow between the fans or players, since a growing resentment between the two peoples have been escalating with recent immigration of Romanians to Italy and Italy deporting many of them back. But they did not believe this would be an issue.
When I arrived in Zurich, I threw my backpack over my shoulder and headed down the platform toward the main doors. However, I quickly stopped in my tracks and looked upward: giant, life-like replicas of soccer stars from many nations stood in a huddle. It seemed like every new tourist was taking pictures of these unbelievably life-like forms. And so did I.
The fan zones were very close to the stadium. You could hear the German and Croatian fans cheering loudly at the many television screens throughout the venue. And the Italians I had spoken with on the train immediately made their way to the excitement.
Twenty-four hours later, I intently watched the fans and players of both Italy and Romania, as their respective teams were now center stage. I had read numerous accounts of Italian and Romanian fans and players getting into scuffles in the last couple of years, and I was interested to see if it would occur again, here, tonight.
It did not. The Italian fans on the train had been correct in their prediction.
There were obviously calls that each team and their fans did not like, and certain challenges and tackles that players took offense to, but nothing out of the ordinary. But the situations never got out of control, and, from my point of view, no one reverted to any form of racism.
It was a good game. I enjoyed it from my neutral point of view. Though both fan groups walked away feeling as though their team should have won.