Reflecting on World Cup ’94, in anticipation of World Cup ’14

I don’t remember a lot of my childhood summers- mostly because I am old. But, I do remember the summer of 1994. The best birthday party ever and the most emotional World Cup of my whole life.

On the day of my birthday party, 2 days after my actual birthday, Brazil was set to square off against Cameroon and the Robb household was ready for action. The party would start around mid-afternoon and end after the game. All my friends from school came and we enjoyed a delicious soccer-field birthday cake.

The players were the candles, and a small Brazilian flag towered over the whole scene. Best cake ever. We waited in anticipation, munching on party snacks, opening gifts (well, that was mostly me) and painting our faces with our beloved flag to show our undying support. The game began and the excitement permeated the whole house – as did my weirdly competitive streak that only comes out during the World Cup and at home Braves games.

I got in trouble later that night for trash-talking the Cameroon team. “Sara, they were probably jet lagged and hadn’t rested or had time to get used to being in another country. I think you should just try to be a little more understanding.”

Whatever, mom. I mean, this was soccer, not a diplomat’s meeting. Bring your best or don’t bring it at all, yo.
Anyway, we rejoiced in the win, the game and the beautiful effort by our sure-to-win- the- whole-thing team. It was fantastic. And then, something terrible happened.

The missionary kids and their parents (or vice versa) were invited to the Rohr’s house. They had a great big house with a big screen TV – and they were hosting a viewing party for “the big game.” That’s right. Brazil v. USA. Kids vs. Parents. True fans/ “assimilated natives” vs. the” on the mission field but not of it” American loyalists. This was it – the ultimate square off.

We had dinner – it was delicious even though the MK’s were placed at the kid table – and then came time for the game. As we all made our way toward the living room to watch, the parents announced that the big screen TV viewing room was for true US fans only. We were escorted down the hall to the guest room to watch the game on a tiny monitor (fine, not tiny, but it wasn’t huge).
Fine then, we didn’t need a big TV – because we had a big team, so there. The showdown began, and there we sat, glued to the TV watching every move, preemptively cheering with every near score, and groaning with sorrow at every miss.

Well, then one of USA’s players grabbed Leonardo’s arm to wrench him away from the ball, and IN SELF DEFENSE, he brought his arms up and twisted to get away, ACCIDENTALLY breaking the American’s nose with his elbow. He was red carded and benched for the rest of the tournament.

We sat there in utter shock – listening to the sound of our parents rejoicing in the other room while we cried our silent tears – not a thought in their minds about the emotional damage they were causing to their children by rejoicing in our suffering.
It was truly terrible, and we mourned Leo being taken out of the rest of the cup. But, in the end, our team pulled through and all our parents’ rejoicing over Leonardo’s demise only came back to bite them in the end, when the USA lost to Brazil 1-0, with a one player advantage.

Boom.

Seriously, though, as the tournament rolled on, we had grand times celebrating together – once everyone got over our differences – and the whole thing culminated with a church-wide viewing of the final, an on- the- edge-of-your-seat until the end kind of game. We stayed stressed out of our minds until Brazil finally beat Italy in penalty kicks, when Branco faked out the Italian goalie, ending the game and releasing our anxieties.

I’m telling you, there is nothing like a Brazilian (or Mexican) victory party. I’ve experienced both. Victories that are tied to a country’s national pastime bring with them an element of heart and soul that can’t be replicated anywhere.
The food tastes better, the smiles are bigger, the songs are louder, and the parties are longer.

This summer, more than ever, I wish I could be in Brazil – to see old friends, to drink real fresh squeezed orange juice along with a piece of French bread with cheese. But, I’ll be united with the experience in heart and soul, and maybe a little bit in my kitchen.
Welcome, World Cup ’14. I’ve been waiting for you.

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