The Spirit of Togo
The last 16 is set. The harsh reality of overtime and the heartbreak of penalties looms over every game now. Two teams enter and one team leaves. But before we enjoy WC football at its finest here is an ode to Togo.
Yesterday we made the short 2.5 hour drive from Brussels to Cologne to see France–Togo. This game did not have the same carnival spirit that surrounded Japan-Australia and Italy-USA. Cologne must not have received the memo that they were hosting the WC since the main fanfest in the downtown was basically a gigantic construction site. Also, the French fans were super nervous since they had to win by 2 goals to advance for certain. But once we fortified ourselves with the essentials, the day started to pick up.
We watched the early games on a big-screen. Unfortunately, this screen was being used for a band concert because its setting in front of Cologne's Cathedral is magnificent.
After the games, the mood of the crowd started to become more festive. The Spanish and Ukrainian fans were celebrating their wins. The Togo fans were making friends and earning converts to their side. And the French were displaying their Frenchness.
Cologne didn't seem to have a central meeting point where all the fans were gathered. Instead everyone was spread out by the Cathedral, at a big-screen park and throughout the Old Town, especially by the river where fans of all ages enjoyed some soccer.
Most people took the U-bahn or subway for the fifteen minute ride to the stadium. It was packed like rush hour except that people were smiling, singing, blowing horns and generally happy. I stumbled upon some French patriots and some dyslexic Togo fans.
Inside the stadium was great. All the neutral fans adopted Togo as their team. Since Togo had already been eliminated many fans were sporting Togo jerseys purchased at greatly reduced prices. The French National Anthem was fantastic, spine-chilling stuff. Great song and always reminds me of "Casablanca."
The French fans were nervy throughout until their team scored two nice goals to secure passage to the next round. Then a full-on dance party broke out. The "Wave" cascaded 6-7 straight times around the stadium. With 10 minutes remaining the Togo fans behind each goal started huge conga lines. The stadium was rocking and the game became secondary. After the whistle and the French had received their applause, about 5 Togo players did a slow lap around the field. Laughing and smiling, waving to fans, these guys were indicative of the spirit of the WC. Togo, outmatched on the field, making headlines for all the wrong reasons off, still managed to play 3 spirited games. The whole place went wild, even the French fans, as the stadium literally rocked to the rhythmic chants of Togo, Togo. What was an ordinary match had turned into something memorable.
More pictures of the day can be found at http://www.flickr.com/photos/57226564@N00/sets/72157594175751810/
What an experience. There is no other competition quite like the WC.
Enjoy the games.