Saturday, August 16
The Event: Football (Soccer) Quarterfinal
The Competitors: Belgium vs. Italy
The Venue: Beijing Worker’s Stadium is an older stadium, not in the same part of town as the new Olympic area. Still, it felt like everything the Olympics should be, with a lot of fanfare, security, and an extremely enthusiastic crowd.
What we knew: Although Italy is a football powerhouse, European teams tend not to send their best players to the Olympics, since most are in-season with their club teams.
How we prepared: We missed our chance to buy Italian or Belgian flags, so we settled for Chinese headbands, which at least made us feel like crazy football fans. We also took advantage of the $0.75 beers available at all Olympic venues and purchased several before and during the game.
What happened: We went in thinking we’d root for Italy, but after Belgium went a man down with a questionable red card in the 19th minute and Italy scored on the subsequent penalty kick, we started pulling for the underdogs. Our sympathies were rewarded when Belgium tied the score on a header off a corner kick and then went ahead on a beautiful breakaway goal. Italy tied it up again in the second half with another goal off a penalty kick, but as time ran down Belgium set up the perfect winner and sealed the shorthanded win, 3-2. We screamed and went crazy, like only gametime bandwagon fans can. Afterward, half the Belgium team threw their jerseys into the Belgian section of the crowd and ran a jubilant Olympic victory lap.
Also of note: A group of about 30 Chinese cheerleaders entertained the crowd both before the game and during halftime. It wasn’t at all strange to see a handful of male cheerleaders in the bunch, but seeing them wear the exact same halter-tops as the women definitely got our attention.