Saturday, June 28, 2008

Now Croatia Is Like a Normal Raiders' Parking Lot!

This post is a follow-up to my account of the pre-game hype for the Croatia vs Turkey quarterfinal, since the game is now in the books and you might wonder what happened, at least from our vantage point among the throng of tourists from all over the world in the Old Town Square of Prague, during a 5 day stop-over on the way home.

It was a pretty wild scene, with a huge screen set up for several thousand people, who were either eating in the cafes on the perimeter, or picnicking in the middle of the square.

There was a large contingent of Turkish fans waving flags and singing, and a smaller group of obvious Croatian fans. We ended up sharing a table at one of the cafes with a couple of Canadians of Croatian heritage who were hardcore about the game, having attended the Croatia-Poland game in person.

Despite the high energy levels of fans from both sides, and in contrast with what I've always heard about soccer crowds, there was a noticeable lack of security. In fact, this guy, who appeared to be about 80 hard years old, was the only person within view who appeared to have any sort of security role:

The game itself turned out to be a classic! Croatia just missed a bunch of shots on goal and dominated possession throughout the game, but finished 0-0 at the end of regulation.

The teams had played another two scoreless 15 minute periods of overtime, and were 3 seconds into the single minute of stoppage time, when Croatia scored a dramatic “game-winning” goal with approximately 57 seconds to go!

Here's the shot I took of the screen to memorialize the winning score:

The Croatian fans were delirious! The Turkish fans were dejected! The ball flied back and forth across the field aimlessly as the clock ran toward the end of the final minute. As our small group of Croatia loyalists began to count down the final seconds, the ball was kicked high the entire length of the field toward the Croatia goal.






"Holy shit!"

As we yelled out the word "One," a Turkish player kicked a rebounded ball into the Croatian goal to tie the game and send it to penalty kicks!

You can probably guess the rest. With a sure win snatched from their grasp, Croatia was rattled and missed a couple of kicks, while Turkey, given new life, made every opportunity and moved on to the semifinals.

With such an emotional turnaround, you might expect some animosity between the rival fans. You might expect security forces to swarm the square in order to maintain order and prevent chaos. Well, here was the only security guard, sound asleep, at the moment the game ended (and being mocked by a drunken German who was quite a hit with fans of both teams, I might add!)

From what I could see, no security was needed anywhere. Everyone appeared to simply say "good evening" or "I'm sorry," depending on whether theirs was the losing or winning team, and then went about their business.

If only every other international conflict could be resolved so politely!

[Update] Apparently, my experience in Prague was not indicative of the behavior of some fans attending the actual game!

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