Without thinking about it, I was rooting for the U.S. team. Of course I would pull for the representatives from my home nation. I'm not a "rah-rah, go U.S.A.!"-type guy who thinks his country can do no wrong, but still when it comes to these tournaments where there's a team of my fellow Americans there as part of a national team I cannot deny there's something that kicks in on a subconscious level to make me identify with them.
For example: When I heard merely the re-broadcast of the audio of the announcer describing Abby Wambach's game-tying goal in the quarterfinal match against Brazil I got a little misty with pride. I didn't even catch that on TV when it first aired and saw only the highlights later, and even a week later the mere sound of that excited call got to me.
I imagine that's due to something inside each of us that can envision what it would be like to be in that situation, with the hopes of our entire country riding on us, and how overwhelmed by emotion we'd be. It's the fantasy facilitated by sympathy.
So when yesterday I watched the final match live on TV, I did get up and run around the living room with my arms raised triumphantly when the U.S. team scored a goal. And when they gave up the first goal to Japan because the defenders failed to clear the ball from near the U.S. net I was yelling at the screen, "What the hell was that?!" I went from elation to dejection over and over.
Here I will admit: When I saw Japan tie the match at 1, before even going to overtime, I said to myself, Well, that's it. We're going to lose this in penalty kicks. I wish I were making that up. I knew there was still a lot of match to go before it would get to that point, but I had some kind of premonition. It also likely was my psyche attempting to get me to distance myself emotionally somewhat, which undoubtedly I needed to do.
So when the U.S. team did, in fact, lose the match after not once but twice being in the lead with only minutes left (in regulation and in overtime) only to have the Japanese get a miraculous goal to tie, and then went on to miss their first three penalty kicks and lose the match, I was not distraught. I was bummed, sure, but if there's one ubiquitous aspect of watching sports—any sports—is that there clearly seemed to be some aspect of destiny on the side of the Japanese team, and there was no point in pitting hope against destiny.
That's where intellect comes back into the fold, in a semi-absurd way. There's nothing logical about attributing the Japanese victory to "destiny," of course, but there is some rationalization going on that is commonplace in sports analysis. It's not pure emotion at that point.
And the further rationalization continued as I thought of how if either of the nations represented in that final match needed the boost of a victory more, clearly it was the one who suffered a devastating natural disaster just months ago.
When on TV they showed scenes from crowds in Japan who watched the match on a big screen, of that moment when Japan won and everyone erupted in cheers, I found myself having an emotional response much like the one I described earlier, where I was filled with that same pride—even though it meant the team for whom I had been rooting had lost. There was simply something about that moment of exultation that got to me as well, nationalism be damned.
Or maybe there's just something about the excitement of those soccer announcers declaring a goal scored that strikes a chord in the human heart. That could be it, too.
As I noted during the Men's World Cup last year I am not a follower of soccer (football) as a sport in general—and I wish to be clear that I have nothing against it; it's merely a sport I never got in the habit of watching or playing at that age when it really would have taken root. However, just like with the Olympics I do find myself interested by these international competitions and will watch events that I wouldn't otherwise. I don't mean to sound like I'm giving some sort of condescending attention to soccer, because that's not it at all. In fact, it's out of respect to those who are adherents to the sport that I admit my situation, so we're all clear where I'm coming from with this.