The Last Days of Euro 2012
All the joy and angst of the Euro 2012 football championships played out for a traveling Washingtonian on, of all places, a cruise ship plying the Mediterranean during the climactic ten days of the event.
From the young Spaniard cavorting around the ship casino's bar to the old Italian man grieving amidst the ruins of Pompeii, Europe's emotions for this quadrennial clash of nations' prides was on display.
Seven nights of action on the bar's big screen television attracted fans on the cruise from around the world. The climax came with the dash through the bar by the Spaniard who was wearing the jersey of the player who scored the wrap-up goal in Spain's 4-0 victory over surprise finalist Italy.
The next day at Pompeii ...
You would've thought Mount Vesuvius erupted again. Disaster. The old Italian sitting guard among the volcanic ruins mumbled in his rickety chair and waived his hands in disgust.
"What's that about?" we wondered.
"Italy lost," the guide replied . "Shussh, let's not talk about it!"
That's generally how it went on a Royal Caribbean cruise two days after Spain won -- except an Italian native or two finally acknowledged that their players ran around like mosquitoes on the pitch.
Although it wasn't planned that way, the trip to the football fanatical countries just happened to be during the European championship.
For an American that posed some challenges.
On the ship that carried our contingent, the games were broadcast at the sports bar.
The night this Americano watched the Britain vs Italian match, a Brit who had been been predicting, mostly wrongly, the next move leaned over and asked "Where are you from?"
"The United States, "he heard .
"Do you know what you're watching?" the man inquired with an all-knowing attitude.
"Probably , "was the response from the Americano who watched 20 plus years of her son playing thru the lower grades, college , and pro ball. And as a consultant helped South Korea win the rights to co-host the 2002 World Cup.
"You call it soccer," he jabbed.
"Yeah, that's what I called it when I helped write two books on the sport."
Then Brits and Italian on TV were scoreless and there was 15 minutes left to play.
"Well, tell me who is going to win?," he laughed with the same dismissive attitude.
"I don't know. But don't be surprised if it goes to PKs."
"Pks?, " he asked puzzled. " Oh, that's penalty kicks, "he quickly added, finding surer footing. "Well, if that happens we Brits are cooked, we don't seem to be able to win penalty kicks."
"Yeah, and the Italian goalie is awfully good," the Americano suggested.
So, after a pair of overtimes, it went to PKs-- and the Brit fan was right.
The Brits lost.
The Americano lucked out.
No incident for CNN international to report ensued.
The Italian fans, one wrapped in a huge green-white-red flag, erupted like Vesuvius. The Brits buried their heads and moaned.
International fans on a later night saw Italy demolish Germany.
Germans at the bar fully realized that it represented a "salute of sorts " to Angela Merkle's austerity plan. Before the starting whistle, the Americano made it clear she preferred Italy, regardless of any wise or stoic financial considerations.
Passion rules on the pitch.
It wasn't to be.
Now, how to solve both countries' Euro woes: bring on the tourists.