Saturday, June 7, 2008

Cultural Exhange

'I feel like I am in a different country.' My eldest niece turns to me and says.

Last night, we sit in Gillette Stadium watching the Brazilian national soccer team play the Venezuelan national team. The stadium is nearly full of Brazilians of all shape and size wearing bright-yellow soccer jerseys and expressing their national pride.

Next to us sit four Latinos sans the Brazilian jerseys. The elder proudly wears cowboy clothes - boots, a brown leather vest, jeans, and a jacket. A strong man, he talks loud and proud in a mixture of Spanish and English. His Latino macho attitude is familiar to me.

At one point, he belly laughs when he rattles off some Spanish statement ending with 'Hugo Chavez! Hugo Chavez!' repeated apparently for good measure.

The Venezuelan team wins by a score of two to nil. The first goal is questionable as the Brazilians try to trap their offense offside, give up on the play amid vigorous protesting, while a Venezuelan approaches the keeper unopposed. Score!!!

The Venezuelan sitting next to me smiles and says softly, 'It is too easy.'

The second goal is brilliant and beautiful. During a rare Venezuelan attack, a player crosses the ball from the right corner of the 18 yard box, through traffic to land on the foot of a Venezuelan attacker - SCORE!!!

During the first half, the Brazilian crowd goes wild when #9 or #11 touches the ball, but in my impression, these players are too busy proudly being themselves to find a practical attack to exploit the Venezuelan defense. However, the sweeper for the Venezuelans is brilliant with his timing, risk taking, and execution.

He routinely thwarts the relentless advance of Brazil with some clever play that sets up an infrequent, but lethal attack by the Venezuelan offense.

One player, #5 on the Brazilian team plays like a thug.

Throughout the game, I vocalize many of my opinions, coaching my nieces who are enthralled by the game also. The dexterity and footwork of the players is breath-taking. Time and time again, the players use their skill to shield the defense and maneuver with graceful talent towards the goal.

My niece picks up on my analysis with her own, shouting frustrated at times like I am, 'Pass the ball cross-field!'

Our plan is to leave at an odd time to avoid the traffic, but my sister is reluctant and my nieces thankfully whine about going. This is the true mark that they enjoy their time.

We buy some Revolution T-shirts and linger for an hour or so in my sister's mini-van while we wait for traffic to ease up.

In my mind's eye, I reflect on the players footwork as they rolled the ball under their feet, swung circles around the ball, stutter stepped, and creatively touched the ball again and again.

Then it was an equal thrill to see my niece's eyes light up with similar eagerness for the soccer season to start once again this fall.

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