Last Friday I was running around town looking like a madwoman, with a bright oranje scarf around my neck and a tiny Uruguayan flag on my cheek, wishing desperately that my I <3 Uruguay Futbol shirt had already arrived. This is fanaticism and it hit me hard. So hard, in fact, that I may have struck back, causing minor destruction to a few household furnishings while leaping 'round the room.
The first day of the quarter-finals (Netherlands/Brazil and Uruguay/Ghana) went almost--almost--as well as it could have gone for someone who's had a crush on both Holland and Uruguay since this tournament began. Every emotion, every element of fandom was present. Vague hope at the beginning of both matches (Uruguay should easily beat Ghana, Brazil certainly had weaknesses that the Dutch could exploit). That sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach when you realize your team is being outplayed. Total despair when your chosen squad goes behind. Denial. A semi-acceptance, in which you start to tell yourself that you really didn't care about this team anyway, so it doesn't matter when they knock themselves out of the World Cup with poor play. Rage when your team misses an easy scoring opportunity. And utter, utter delight when they manage to pull themselves level, causing shouts of glee and promises to stay loyal forevermore.
Holland returned my love. The Dutch stayed in control while the Brazilians went up in flames, fouling players and throwing temper tantrums. Netherlands earned a corner, with Arjen Robben sending it toward the near post, where Dirk Kuyt flicked it on to Wesley Sneijder, who headed it into the net. Sneijder. Who stands five feet, seven inches tall. This tiny little man, who clearly I would put in my pocket and who would actually fit in my pocket, headed in a goal to give the Dutch the lead. Just five minutes later, Robben, who'd been provoking the Brazilian tempers by easily going to ground, legitimately found himself flat on the pitch, but this time Felipe Melo thought it might be a wise idea to stomp his spikes into Robben's leg. Straight red. My howls of outrage turned into giggles of glee. Brazil was unable to regain their composure and the Oranje, with their 2-1 victory, put themselves in the semi-finals.
And then there was Uruguay, who thought it fun to exploit my love to the point where I almost considered myself to be in an abusive relationship. I lost count of the number of times that La Celeste tried to give me a heart attack. This match was easily the tensest, most nerve-wracking tie that we've seen in the tournament. While other matchups have had moments of glory and moments in which to gnaw off one's nails, this one managed to keep my heart aflutter from kickoff to penalties. Although Uruguay found their equalizer off a Diego Forlan free-kick in the 55th minute, the sides stayed evenly matched, with opportunities going back and forth, until the last minute of extra time. Here is not place to debate whether Luis Suarez is a hero or a villain (here is). Suffice it to say that this Uruguay fan wants nothing more than a light blue kit with a number nine on the back. But when Asamoah Gyan stepped up to take the penalty, I thought it was all over. He'd already won the match against Serbia with his converted penalty. And so I didn't look, preferring to stare at the ground until the Spanish voices on Univision reached an excited crescendo. With my blood pounding in my ears, I couldn't understand what they were saying, so when I looked up and saw bright blue shirts jumping and celebrating, I couldn't quite believe it.
But there we were, into a penalty shootout, which has no effect on frail nerves whatsoever. I was unable to stay seated. I paced, I jumped, I crouched down like Suarez in the lineup of Uruguayans on the pitch. When Muslera saved not one but two penalties in a row, I screamed myself hoarse. Then Sebastián Abreu stepped up. After the first missed penalty by Ghana, Maxi Pereria also missed, and I was terrified of a repeat--but this time I couldn't look away. Thank goodness I didn't, because I've never seen a penalty as cooly fantastic as the one taken by Abreu. He slowly approached Richard Kingson and then lightly chipped it over the keeper's head, leaving him confused and beaten. With that ending, Uruguay were through to the semi-finals, and although I was gutted for Gyan as I watched him sobbing on the pitch, that feeling quickly dissipated as La Celeste celebrated, dancing, applauding their fans and generally behaving like crazies. Quite similar to the behavior I demonstrated at the time, really.
And now we've come to today, the semi-final matchup between Uruguay and Netherlands. How to choose? Do I favor history? Colors? The attractiveness of the players, matched one on one with their numerical counterparts (Suarez wins hands down over van Persie)? There are flaws and weaknesses in each squad, but they also each bring excitement, flashes of style, and magnificent , twisting goals. And so I won't choose. One of my teams is going to the final, but I'll be screaming my heart out for both.