A lot has happened since my last entry. For those who are unsure how the tournament has progressed, let me catch you up.
Portugal, Turkey, Croatia, Germany, The Netherlands, Italy, Spain and Russia all advanced to the knockout phase of the tournament (win or go home). The biggest surprises so far are France’s failure to advance by finishing last in their group and Croatia beating out Germany for the top spot in theirs. To me Spain and The Netherlands looked the most impressive, with Portugal and a surging Russia team on the second tier. Of course, Italy, the current world champions should never be discounted.
In the quarterfinal round, Germany upset Portugal 3-2 in an amazingly entertaining match in which Philip Lahm scored a late goal to put Germany ahead for good. Somehow, the next game proved to have an even better finish as Turkey leveled the score in injury time on its way to defeating Croatia in penalties (3-1). And in last night’s game, Russia stunned The Netherlands 3-1 in extra time. Hopefully the remaining games will prove just as entertaining.
I arrived in Vienna in the early afternoon for the quarterfinal match between Spain and Italy.
I don’t have a ticket yet, but I really want to see this game. So I headed back to the train station where I had seen people selling tickets when I first arrived.
I quickly found a seller. He asked if I was alone. I quickly made up a story about meeting a couple friends of mine in town for the game. “They already have tickets though,” I claimed. He probably was just hoping I knew more buyers, but you never know.
My newly acquired ticket stuffed in my pocket, I headed toward the stadium. It was easy to find. I didn’t even have to check my map. I just followed the parading Spanish and Italian fans.
I arrived at the stadium quite early. However, it was hard to tell by how full the stadium was. (My ticket scanned properly, and no one was sitting in my seat, if you were wondering or thought that might be an issue, like my Mom did.)
Just prior to the playing of the respective national anthems of Italy and Spain, a message appeared, delivered by one Spanish player and one Italian player, asking the fans to be respectful and quiet during the other country’s anthem. Neither fan group took heed of the request, whistling loudly during the opposing team’s anthem.
Beyond that, however, the game was relatively incident free. Of course, the Spanish and Italian passion on both sides bled through, but it never got out of control. The atmosphere was more reminiscent of a big time college football rivalry than anything else.
And even after a number of questionable calls and a close finish (Spain won on penalties 4-2, after a scoreless 120 minutes of play), the fans on both sides remained relatively respectful toward one another.
Now, for the first time since the tournament began, there will be a break in the action. It’s sad really. I’ve grown accustomed to watching world-class soccer on a nightly basis. But then again, I am in Europe. I’m sure I’ll find something to occupy my time.