New Zealand 0, Ukraine 0
North Harbour Stadium, Auckland, May 30 2015
“To qualify for the World Cup was, in truth, a great achievement. I’ve never had a swim in the ocean, so I am happy I will do it now – in New Zealand.”
– Oleksandr Petrakov, Ukraine coach
It’s the little things.
World Cups are obviously special occasions. Some fans would rather see their favourite club win the Champions League than their country win the World Cup, and I can understand that on one level, but it’s not me. I fell in love with football because of the World Cup. It was watching Italy play in Italia ’90 and USA ’94 that gave me the bug. Now watching any World Cup takes me back to my youth, to getting out of bed in the middle of the night, singing Inno Nazionale with the team from under a duvet on the couch, and sweating every pass from Maldini, Costacurta, Baresi, Baggio, Donadoni, Schillaci and others. This is why it’s still the World Cup that makes the hair on my neck stand up more than any other football competition.
Now there is a World Cup taking place in my country!
Sure, it’s not THE World Cup, but the FIFA Under 20 World Cup is still one of the biggest sporting events in the world. If you had told me, at 14 years old watching Italia ’90, that something like this would be played in New Zealand one day, I wouldn’t have believed you. And not just that, but if you’d also told me that I would be down on the pitch taking photographs from as close as it’s possible to get as part of the media… Well, I suspect my little head would have exploded!
Like Oleksandr Petrakov, who just wants to swim in the ocean (DUDE – it’s COLD! You should check out Rotorua instead…), I am in heaven simply watching his team play on New Zealand soil.
Ukraine may not be one of the flashiest teams here at this tournament, but this former Soviet republic are a proud nation with a football pedigree you have to respect, especially given the struggles they have had to overcome to get here – with the political situation in the East of their country.
My quintessential Ukrainian memory will always be their showing as Italy’s 2006 quarter final opponents in Germany. We may have won 3-0 but it was a pretty scary thing for a while there… Because they didn’t prevail I am quite capable of complimenting them today. If they’d beaten us I wouldn’t be so generous!
For New Zealand, having held a footballing power such as this to a draw, this was quite an achievement. As it happened though, they will probably be disappointed they couldn’t have snatched an unlikely victory! Either side could easily have taken this out, and certainly had the opportunities to do so, but when all was said and done it finished as a classic World Cup 0-0. Nerviness in front of goal costing both sides a match that ended in a stalemate leaving the group wide open. How much of a familiar sounding World Cup sentence is that? It certainly is for Italy fans.
And all this in front of a sell-out 25,000 strong crowd. A sell-out 25,000 strong crowd! For football!! In Auckland!!! Here I am pinching myself again.
But for all my nostalgic reminiscing, this World Cup is fundamentally different in one critical way. Italy aren’t in it and New Zealand is. That in itself is a new experience for me, and a slightly odd feeling one. Perhaps in 25 years’s time I will look back on this with the same fondness as I feel for Italia ’90 and USA ‘94. For some reason I have a strange instinct that I absolutely will.
It’s for that reason that I hereby solemnly promise that I won’t mention Italy again for the next three weeks!
Well, I’ll try not to.
A grassroots football enthusiast based in Auckland, New Zealand, and a fan of the most magnificent club on earth - A.S. Roma. More info (including e-mail address) can be found here: http://in-the-back-of-the.net/about/