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World Cup Game Proves to Be a Memorable Experience

By Daniel Wang
Associate Sports Editor

East Rutherford, N.J.

Many months ago, in late October, I thought I had made a stupid mistake to mail in my entry and credit card number into the lottery for tickets to see games at World Cup USA 1994. I was hoping not to receive the tickets and be able to spare my wallet.

When I was notified in January that I was chosen to order tickets, I thought that I would end up throwing my money away. But my views on my luck changed when I came home in late May. By that time, most sports-oriented commercials focused on soccer (oddly known as "football" everywhere else in the world). When the event started on June 17, I heard the news about the astronomical prices people were paying the see individual games. People had told me that I could sell my two tickets for more than 10 times the $60 I paid for each of them. My immediate reply was: "No way! I'm going to see the game!"

I had the chance to witness the stunning upset by Bulgaria over the defending champion Germany in the quarterfinals. The game was held at Giants Stadium, where I discovered even the cheapest seats provide a fantastic view.

In this article, I will not try to report on the actual game, as much as the experiences I had of being part of the world's largest single sporting event. The sights and sounds were indeed truly memorable. Anyone who attended any one of these games can attest to it.

My experience started out early in the morning, as my friend and I started our trek from my home to the venue. Near the area where I parked, a banner was draped in front of a portable toilet, which read, "Andres Escobar, our prayers are still with you." For those who do not know, Escobar was a star on the Colombian team who was murdered for accidentally kicking the ball into his own team's goal in the game against the United States. This incident is tragic, displaying the extreme and unfortunate consequences of sports fanaticism in other parts of the world.

All throughout the parking lot, there were small gatherings. German colors were everywhere to be seen, as well as colors of other countries. However, Bulgarian supporters, or at least their colors were nowhere to be seen. Even before entering the stadium gates, the crowd favorite was easy to determine.

I had purchased the least expensive tickets, but they felt like they were among the best seats in the house. My seat was located five rows from the front, almost directly behind the goal. Nearby, hordes of autograph-seekers tried to flag down various players who just happened to pass by.

When the German goalie Bodo Illgner came out and started his warm-up, the crowd erupted, then quickly quieted. He and another teammate were on the field for about 10 minutes before the rest of the German team came out and began a rather disorganized warm-up. Soon after, the Bulgarian team took the other end of the field. The Germans took awhile before they started actually kicking balls, but when they took shots on the goal, they sent many balls flying into the stands. There was fear - for being hit by a ball is not the most pleasant feeling - yet excitement whenever a ball came nearby.

The players left the field, then the announcer gave the starting lineups. When the announcer said the names of the German players, fans would shout out each of the last names.

The players then returned to the field, and the crowd sent a deafening roar in response. They went near the sidelines in the center of field and lined up facing the stands. Next, the U.S. Naval Academy band delivered the national anthems, first for Bulgaria, then for Germany. As if out of ceremony, the players jumped for joy after hearing their anthem.

Play commenced soon after. The contest pitted Germany, the defending champion, and undefeated so far in the tournament, against Bulgaria, the Cinderella-story of the entire tournament. Bulgaria had never won a game in previous editions of the World Cup, but this team had already defeated favored Argentina and in the previous elimination round, scored an upset against Mexico in a penalty kick shootout tie-breaker.

The game was filled with numerous offensive opportunities. Although the first half ended in a scoreless tie, the action was always fun to watch.

The crowd always seemed to deliver thunderous applause whenever a goal seemed inevitable. The partisan pro-Germany fans certainly did so when the referee awarded a penalty kick to German player Lothar Matthaus early in the second half. To their fortune, he delivered with the goal to put Germany ahead, 1-0.

An interesting thing happens at half time: Not all of the players exit the field. Team members not starting just sit out near the bench area, and there is no half time show. Anyone who stayed, like I did, just watch ground crews pick debris off the turf and try to smooth out the uneven spots.

The medical crews were quite busy on this day. Early in the second half, Bulgarian player Trifon Ivanov was hit and knocked down by a shot traveling 70 miles per hour, causing play to stop. As medical attention was delivered, screens replayed the shot a few times, giving the spectators a chance to feel the pain he felt. Ivanov seemed unconscious but returned to the game. Later on, a German player was knocked out and seemed to have a more serious injury.

From where I sat, it was difficult to see the action on the other end of the field. With my luck, however, I saw the two goals that Bulgaria scored to tie, then win the game. Both of them seemed to happen within the blink of an eye. I did not realize that a goal was scored, let alone how good the shots were, until the ball was long buried in the net.

There was just as much noise over Bulgaria's goals as there was for Germany's goal. I had the feeling that there were many spectators like me who cheered for both sides. In the final stages of the game, the cheers were louder and more for Bulgaria.

Throughout the entire game, both teams had many spectacular offensive drives. Especially near the Bulgarian goal, the closer the offense came, the harder it was for the crowd to stay in their seats. The noise level also picked up whenever there was a near-miss or a great save by either goalkeeper. Of course, there were also the boos whenever the Bulgarians stalled to run down the clock.

The minutes after the unofficial game clock expired were tense moments, since only one person, the referee, knew exactly how much time was left. The Bulgarians just tried to keep the ball away, waiting for time to run out. On the other hand, the Germans desperately tried to beat the clock with a game-tying goal.

When the final whistle sounded, the Bulgarian team made their ecstasy known. There were small factions of fans who waved the Brazilian flag and showed their support, somehow feeling that the one team that could defeat their team, had been eliminated. Immediately after the game ended, police officers wasted no time to stand along the perimeter of the field, staring directly at the audience, as if expecting trouble to occur. The Bulgarian players' celebration seemed short-lived, as both teams quickly left the field.

Outside, Bulgarian supporters were relatively few in number, but their cheers were still emphatic. The victory was reportedly one of the greatest moments in the history of the country.

The feeling I had at the game was certainly one of excitement and intensity. However, the extreme case of uncontrollable pandemonium, usually associated with soccer, did not occur. Even so, I believed that the experience was well worth it. Although I am not a big soccer fan, I would love to see another World Cup game. I am glad that I used the best opportunity to do so.