So, steadily since June 11, I’ve been watching the World Cup straight, with very few breaks. I’m lucky enough to work in a newsroom where all the games are on, so the fact that I’m gainfully employed hasn’t completely stood in the way of The Beautiful Game.
There have been some fantastic moments already. Serbia’s upset of Germany on Friday in a match led by a card-happy referee was a true shocker, and the United States coming back from an 0-2 deficit against Slovenia to tie (and almost win!) likely made for the best match of the tournament so far.
And on Monday, Portugal had better take care of business against North Korea.
Now, it should be stated that I’m rooting for the U.S. when push comes to shove. But I’m Portuguese, a first-generation descendant of parents from the Azores, living in an extremely Portuguese city, New Bedford. This is basically the home team. If they can advance to the Round of 16 and start making noise, Acushnet Avenue will be blocked off and the party won’t stop for days. It could be amazing.
But that’s my heart talking. In my head, I know it’s a long shot right now. Though ranked no. 3 overall in the FIFA world rankings, Portugal had to run the gauntlet just to qualify for the Cup finals, needing to beat Bosnia and Herzegovina in the European playoffs. And a substandard showing in a 0-0 draw with Ivory Coast certainly didn’t do much to lift spirits.
Still, this is the World Cup, the greatest sporting event the world can offer. No other event compares to it, and the only one that even comes close (for me) is the Men’s hockey tournament in the Winter Olympics.
And in Portugal’s next two fixtures, I’ll be paying close attention to a midfielder playing his international swan song, Deco.
I’ve always been drawn to Deco. A Brazilian who attained Portuguese citizenship to play for the Navigators after years of playing with Porto, Deco’s a creative playmaker, brilliant with the ball and able to thread needles, putting it past defenders and on the foot of a striker. He’s 32 years old now, and after some initial hesitation in acceptance, Portugal’s players and fans have embraced him.
That said, it’s not likely that he’ll be a major force in the tournament. He should be solid, though he was a little out of his element against the Ivory Coast; those overly physical matches just don’t suit his game. He needs open space and quickness to create his art.
So, like the entire Portuguese side, my head tells me they might be in a bit over their heads here. But my heart is pulling for them, and especially Deco.