MALINOVO, Slovakia – It was so sad, the way it ended. On the football pitch, exhausted. Dreams crushed. They would not be champions, after all.
I’m not talking about Slovakia’s heroic football team, which succumbed to Holland on Monday, 2-1, four days after pulling the greatest upset of the 2010 World Cup.
I’m talking about the traumatic finish to my 8-year-old son’s football tournament on Sunday. Devastating.
A postcard-perfect afternoon, in this village outside Bratislava, we cheered from the sidelines of a sun-drenched field as our team of 7- and 8-year-olds squared off against three other teams.
When my kid started playing, he was as fluid with the ball as a newborn giraffe. I thought his true calling in football was as scorekeeper.
A year later, remarkably, he bounds after it gracefully. Like an antelope. Oh, and he’s the only one in eyeglasses, which miraculously survived the season intact. In the process, he was named most improved player.
During the tournament’s first 30-minute game, with our boys ahead and feeling giddy, their English coach understatedly advised: “Win this one … and the next two … and you’ll win the championship!”
They won the first, 3-0. “We are the champions!” they sang. Prematurely, I thought.
They then won the second, by an identical 3-0. We fathers were feeling pretty good, too. Since our kids attend an international school, we hail from all directions. One shouted encouragement to his son in Finnish; another, in German; a third, Japanese; a fourth, Danish; and a fifth, um, in Australian.
The opponents were mostly Slovak, with some ethnic Hungarians mixed in. One coach caught my attention, as he seemlessly barked commands to his squad in both languages. (more…)