U.S. against them: World Cup action ignites nationalism
* Note: This article originally appeared in the Oct. 5, 2007, edition of The Davis Enterprise. While Canada is not China, it’s always tough playing on the road.
SHANGHAI , China — Ever had the feeling that the whole world was against you?
OK, maybe not the whole world. How about just 33,000 people?
I’ve been blessed to see several international competitions on North American soil. Throughout them all, I was one in a thunderous throng chanting, “U-S-A! U-S-A!” The sound was deafening at times. It reverberated all around and caused your insides to quake.
Everywhere I looked, the stands were awash with red, white and blue. Faces were covered with stars and stripes, flags waved and fans cheered.
It’s called home-court advantage.
On Sunday, I experienced the converse: the foreign-soil disadvantage.
My friends, Ruth and Shellie, and I traveled to Shanghai to watch the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2007 on China’s eastern coast. We took the elevated train to Hongkou Stadium and picked up our tickets.
We were giddy with excitement. None of us had ever seen a World Cup game in person. We would have been darn near uncontrollable had the U.S. been in the championship instead of the third-place game. It didn’t matter. We were still ready to be loud and proud.
Not wanting to miss anything, we arrived about an hour before the game. We meandered through the fan zone, where fans could have their faces painted or attempt to kick a goal to win a noise-maker.
Surprisingly, the Chinese fans were still asking to have the Chinese flag painted on their faces despite the fact that their team wasn’t even playing. That’s loyalty. On their other cheek, they were adding the yellow, red and black of Germany or the blue, yellow and green of Brazil.
There was very little blue and white paint being used.
The color scheme varied little as we found our seats. The bulk of the U.S. contingent was midfield. We were tucked in near the south goal. Beautiful seats, but surrounded by Germans and Brazilians. One should-be U.S. fan — a student from the University of Washington — decided because of the brouhaha over Hope Solo that he was going to be anti-U.S.
We were already outnumbered, and he jumps ship. (He booed when Briana Scurry was announced as the starting goalie and stood to his feet and cheered when Norway scored in the second half.) I’m not even sure this was legal on rival turf.
Hongkou, which holds 34,000, looked like Dodger Stadium in the third inning for most of the first half. When Abby Wambach scored the first goal for the United States at the 30-minute mark, I high-fived my friends and then had to look around for someone else. There were no other U.S. fans nearby, so I high-fived a Brazilian.
We tried to get chants of “U-S-A” started, but they’d quickly die. I even tried in Chinese, hoping the growing contingent around us would take it up. “Jia you! Mei guo! Jia you!” (roughly translated, “Let’s go! America! Let’s go!”) It got a chuckle out of the Chinese around us — even a compliment on my Mandarin, but no help.
At halftime, the stadium was mostly full. The Brazilians and Germans turned out to be pro-Norwegian fans. The chant of “Nor-Way! Nor-Way!” rocked the stadium.
It was hard to hear myself say, “U-S-A.” Our meager hundreds were no match for the thousands.
If volume produced goals, Norway would have trounced the U.S. squad.
However, the American women ran away with a 4-1 victory for third-place. Before the match, we’d talked about whether third place really mattered. When you’re outnumbered 10,000-to-1 in a foreign country and national pride is at stake, we decided yes.
— Kim Orendor is a former sports editor for The Davis Enterprise. She is currently living in Los Angeles. Follow her on Twitter at @KOrendor.