I held my Greek flag over my head in disbelief and shock at what just happened. Here’s a guy I’d been cussing out for the past two hours – no, two weeks!!! – lining up to take a penalty that could launch Greece into the Round of 16 at the World Cup Finals – further than Greece has ever gone before.
“What happened?”, my friend Mike asked.
“A miracle. Samaras has a chance to win the game. This is unreal!”
“What? The guy you’ve been calling a neanderthal all game? You literally just said you would be happy if he never plays for Greece again. Well. That’s ironic.”
It felt like the longest two minutes of my Greek football fandom. So many things were running through my head. Glory at Euro 2004. Shame at World Cup 1994. Countless players, good and bad. Otto. My friends and family back home and in Greece watching what was about to unfold.
Samaras – Don’t. Screw. This. Up.
I couldn’t bear to watch. I lifted the flag just above my eyes as the referee gave the signal to take the penalty.
Samaras went in motion. The keeper lunged to his left. The ball was in the back of the net.
I yelled at the top of my lungs. I lost my voice. Then I yelled some more.
90% of the fans in the stadium were sitting in stunned silence. The Greeks scattered among the crowd were elated. Against all odds. Against 50,000 people who were earlier chanting Didier Drogba’s name.
For three games, the entire crowd had been against us. It seemed like nobody wanted us in Brazil. We were the ugly ducklings of the World Cup. The “boring” team that can’t score goals. The one that always seems to play a beautiful defensive game that’s never appreciated. The team that’s rarely given the respect it deserves. But tonight, we had the last laugh.
I woke up in the morning with the feeling something great was going to happen. Things in Fortaleza were moving along smoothly. The shuttles were organized, the FIFA Fan Store actually had more than just Brasil stuff (ok, Germany, Mexico, and Spain only, but it’s a start), and the concessions were stocked with food.
After the national anthems were sung, I settled in to what I expected to be a great game. I was wrong. The first 35 minutes of the game were horrendous to watch. I couldn’t help but question Fernando Santos’ strategy. Were we trying to bore Ivory Coast to death?
It got worse. Panagiotis Kone had to be subbed out. He had been one of our best players in the previous two games. Then it got even worse. I almost lost all confidence when Orestis Karnezis was subbed. Our keeper? Now we only have one more sub for the final 60 minutes? This is bad. This is really, really bad.
Things surprisingly picked up after that. José Holebas hit the crossbar on a beautiful shot from just outside the box. And just a few minutes from the half, Andreas Samaris, subbed on for Kone, scored Greece’s first goal of the 2014 World Cup on a quick counter-attack.
1-0. We were going into the half with a lead. I felt it wouldn’t be enough. I knew Ivory Coast would pile on the pressure in the second frame.
A great shot by Dimitris Salpingidis was turned away at the hour mark. Georgios Karagounis nearly sealed the deal a few minutes later but instead hit Greece’s second crossbar of the night. We were clearly outplaying them and I was proud of the effort by almost all of the players on the pitch.
Then, disaster. Wilfried Bony tied the game for Ivory Coast. A draw wouldn’t be enough for Greece. We needed a win and only a win.
I was relieved when Didier Drogba came off and Ivory Coast got more defensive. This is a team that struggles to defend and had already been giving Greece a lot of space and chances throughout the game.
But as the minutes ticked away, I was getting more and more nervous.
And then, it happened. Samaras was brought down in the box, and the rest is history.
I celebrated with the Greek fans outside the stadium for a good half hour, chanting and singing as much as my voice allowed.
Walking back to the bus, not one person complained to me about the penalty. Although I had yet to see a clear replay, BBC claimed the penalty shouldn’t have been called and that Greece hadn’t been a threat (what game were they watching?). When I finally got to watch a replay and read more accurate game reports, it was clear that the right call had been made. No controversy.
Unfortunately for me, my World Cup has come to an end. I won’t be traveling with the boys to Recife for the game against Costa Rica. Instead, I’ll be watching with a small group of Greeks in Santiago, Chile. I’m headed to Buenos Aires on Thursday morning.
I’ll have one more World Cup update with some memories and thoughts about my trip to Brazil, the tournament, and some bests and worsts. After that, I’ll continue updating with my travel tips and photos – I have a lot of updates to write about Brazil!
But most importantly, I have to thank the boys at Greek Sports and Social Network (GSSN) in Chicago for featuring my blog posts throughout the World Cup. I really appreciate it and I’m humbled by all of the support I’ve received from everyone who’s been reading. My blog hits have more than doubled since the World Cup, all thanks to Dino and George.
Finally, to Georgios Samaras – for all the name calling and moutzes I’ve thrown your way the past few years – μπράβο. I at least owe you that one. But it doesn’t change anything.
Until my final World Cup post, good night from Fortaleza.