Friday, September 23, 2005

Chinese Taipei vs. Iraq

Classic unpublished blog from September 2004

My girlfriend met me at the airport when I got back from Thailand. She wore a pink qipao (traditional Chinese dress), pink shoes and carried a dainty little cream/pink handbag. She looked ridiculously hot. Every other guy in the airport stared at me in disbelief. "Satine," I said, "you look so beautiful." "I know," she said cutely. I decided I would pay her back by taking her somewhere special – the crumbling football stadium near my house!

A game was scheduled for a couple of days later, and Satine was keen to go. Taiwan (known as Chinese Taipei for political reasons, yawn) welcomed Olympic semi-finalists Iraq. Iraq! I invited my American friend Robin to join us and he thought it would be a good laugh. Satine arrived wearing another stunning outfit – the Manchester United shirt I bought in Thailand. Robin arrived with apparently no concern for his physical appearance, wearing ‘foreigner-shorts’ and an unbuttoned shirt.

We walked into the stadium without paying so I assumed it was a friendly, but Robin saw a banner: “Germany 2006 World Cup qualifying match.” In other words it was an important game. It didn’t seem right that Taiwan and Iraq should be in the same regional qualifying group. How does that work? It also didn’t seem right that when we entered the stadium we walked within two metres of the entire Iraq team and all the referees and assistants. Security, anyone?

We sat on the concrete terrace of the main stand, the only place with a roof to shelter us from the rain. We listened to the anthems, and Satine asked me why they were playing the ‘national song’. “Does it make you love your country?” I asked. “No,” she replied, puzzled. The game kicked off, a Taiwan player tried to pass the ball and kicked it out of touch ten yards from his nearest teammate. I had a look round. About three hundred people sat in the covered stand with us, and the rest of the stadium was empty except two people sat in the uncovered stand opposite us, huddled under umbrellas. Iraq scored.

I’d brought some Perrier water with me, and Robin and Satine had sushi. The nearest meat pie was 6,000 miles away. Satine tasted my expensive water and pulled a face like I had given her sour lemon mixed with poison. She didn’t see the point of drinking fizzy water. “It’s expensive,” I reminded her. “It tastes like ass,” she said. I’d been teaching her English.

The game bored me, but it was a new experience for both Robin and Satine. Iraq passed the ball well and put pressure on Taiwan. Taiwan lacked quality, but played with spirit and could maybe have got a draw if they didn’t have number 41 playing. Number 41 was the worst player I have ever seen, at any level of football. Without exaggerating he lost the ball one hundred per cent of the time it came near him. It bounced off his legs, he failed to make contact with headers, his passing was desperate and he was slow; slow and fat. I was quite amused except I wanted Taiwan to do well for Satine’s sake. “Why do they keep giving the ball to the other team?” she asked. She got so frustrated she punched me in the arm. I leapt to my feet. “Come on Taiwan!” I shouted. “Jiayou!”

At half time we went to get some food. Robin left to go on a date. Americans are like that. I bought some little rice cake things and kiwi juice from the sushi place and we went back to the stadium. Someone had taken our seats so we had to move. We ended up in front of an English guy with two little kids. Satine loved their cute British voices. “Will your children have cute voices like that?” she asked scarily. Did she say ‘your children’ or ‘our children’? Alarm! Alarm! “Let’s watch the game.”

The two people in the opposite stand had been joined by a friend. He didn’t have an umbrella so he sat in the middle. Three people covered by two umbrellas – It was real teamwork. There was more good teamwork on the pitch. Iraq strung some slick passes together and began to carve Taiwan open at will. They scored a goal. But wait! I saw the linesman raise his flag for offside, think for a second, and then put it straight back down again. The goal stood. The Taiwanese players were rightly furious, and the captain complained himself into the referee’s notebook. They restarted the game in a frenzy of attacking football. “They can use their anger to get more power,” Satine told me. Even number 41 managed to control the ball and pass it successfully. With every incident, Satine made an excited ‘eh?’ noise. Then a Taiwan player struck a long shot right against the crossbar. The stand erupted in a wave of belief. Jiayou! You can do it! And then – goal! Satine was delirious. Taiwan’s cheerleaders (four men in plastic Macintoshes) became yet more energetic, prancing and flailing like witch doctors, praying to the football gods for more goals.

More goals came. For Iraq. After they made it 4-1, Satine punched me again. “What makes the goalkeeper think he can catch the ball with that crowd of players there?” she asked, correctly laying the blame for the goal. “But… Taiwan scored a goal…?” I reminded her, trying to make her happy again. “He’s a dick,” she said. “He made me lose face.”

After giving both teams a warm round of applause, everyone left. We walked out of the stadium into the drizzle, and we saw a very nice coach parked outside the main entrance. “Eh? Some fans hired a coach to see the game!” said Satine. “Um… maybe that’s the Iraq team coach?” “Oh… yeah…” she said, and looked abashed. “Let’s go,” I said.

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