“Football is a simple game. Twenty-two men chase a ball for 90 minutes and at the end, the Germans always win.”
So said Gary Lineker, a former English soccer player. His team played against Germany in the 1990 World Cup semifinals and lost after the penalty shootout.
On July 4, as I was about to go watch the quarterfinal match between France and Germany, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. It had become an obsession. I even dreamed about it!
But no! France will win, I told myself. It HAS to win.
I am a French citizen living in New York City. Although I hardly follow football – or soccer as it’s called here – the World Cup is a big deal to me. It’s France’s most popular sport and I grew up watching matches every weekend.
The relationship between the French national team and its supporters is difficult to define. We love it when it wins the World Cup (1998) or the Euro Cup (2000). We are sad and disappointed when the team does not go past the group stage (2002, 2010). We hate it when a forward allegedly insults the coach’s mother and the players decide to skip training in support of one of their own.
That happened four years ago during the World Cup in South Africa. The French were ashamed of their own team, and ever since, the team has been trying to make up for it – with varying degrees of success.
Now, in 2014, things are different. With a new coach and some new players, the team is endearing. France made it out of the group stage and beat Nigeria in the round of 16. We’re about to play the quarterfinals against Germany and that’s more than anybody could have ever imagined possible.
I arrive at Nevada Smiths, a bar located south of Union Square, 20 minutes before the match on Friday, and it’s already pretty crowded. The first floor is full of people wearing French jerseys and drinking beer. There are also some German supporters, but they are easily outnumbered.
The match is about to start. Finally!
The commentators introduce the teams. It’s time for the national anthems. First, La Marseillaise, which the French patrons sing out loud and clear. I have goosebumps.
The match starts. In the first 10 minutes, France rarely touches the ball. Germany is clearly dominating, but they haven’t scored. So far, so good…
France tries to score first – no luck. Then comes the 13th minute. The physiognomy of the match is about to change. There’s a foul against Germany. They get a free kick. They score.
That’s 1-0 for our neighbors.
I’m annoyed. I know France can do better. We scored eight goals during the group stage, but for whatever reason it seems we can’t manage a single goal in this match.
Just after Germany scores, a friend joins me. She knows somebody has scored, but not which team. I explain that France is losing and we just need one goal to stay alive.
The clock keeps ticking.
Thirty-fifth minute. Still nothing…
Halftime – I’m hoping that the break will change something.
By that point, I’m not on the first floor of the bar anymore, having migrated to the third floor to join yet another friend. I tell her to cheer for Germany, because every time she supports a team, they lose. I am THAT desperate.
It’s less crowded on this level, and people are chatting quietly. They seem to be there for the Brazil-Colombia match scheduled for later in the afternoon.
The match resumes. We have some opportunities, but nothing exciting. It doesn’t seem to me that this team wants to win. There’s no feeling of revolt, like you sometimes see in teams that are losing and want it bad.
Both teams are trying to score but the pace of the match is slow. I’m waiting for something to happen.
Fifteen minutes remain when a group of five young Germans elbow everybody aside and stand in front of the screens.
Have you ever had the feeling that you want to kick somebody because they’re so annoying?
I had that feeling. But I know I felt that way because France was losing and those Germans were obnoxious about it. I also know that if France had been winning, I would have been the obnoxious one.
For the last 15 minutes, I have to put up with these rowdy supporters. I’m not the only one irritated. People are telling them to shut up.
I try to stay focused on the match. It is stoppage time. France has only one minute to go and it needs to score. I grab my friend’s arm. I stop breathing. I watch the screen without blinking. Benzema has the ball. He has the ball and he shoots…
And he misses…
Whistle. The match is over. Germany is in the semifinals. France is going home. We could have won. We should have won.
Next to me, the Germans are cheering, louder than ever. I just want to leave. My friends follow me.
I am sad, a bit disappointed.
All the same, France did better this time. We lost. But we can be proud of the players who wore the French jersey. And that’s something.
Mathilde Hamel is multimedia journalist in New York. Follow her on Twitter.