RUSSELL DAVIS ’17
In the hunt for the highly prized title, Champions League victors, Real Madrid took on AS Roma at Stadio Olympico this past Wednesday, Feb. 17, kicking off the round of 16 first leg in this prestigious tournament. This match was the first of two legs, a unique system used in soccer that features both a home and away game, with the winner crowned by the total aggregate of goals. Packed with the best teams in all of Europe, and featuring some of the best players in the world such as Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi; the tournament is a worldwide phenomena. Representing so many different countries has made the Champions league, and soccer, one of the most televised, international sports in the world. This makes going to one of these games a once in a lifetime opportunity, especially for an American like me.
The passion and tension I witnessed walking into the Stadio Olympico was palpable. The chants from the home fans were visceral, throbbing my eardrums and stomach, a feeling only comparable to that of a playoff football game or a Yankees Red Sox game to put it in context. In soccer though, or football as it’s properly called, the pent up aggression is squeezed into 90 consecutive minutes, with a brief halftime. Instead of standing up for most of the game, the fans seemed to prefer sitting down, rocking back and forth waiting for the opportunity to celebrate or burry their head in their hands. In either scenario, it usually ended up in the jeering of the away team, Real Madrid, with the classic gesticulation that accompanies Italian passion. The atmosphere was electric, with organized chants coming non-stop from the biggest hooligans in the stadium sitting behind the home goal, self-proclaimed as the Ultras. I, myself, sat opposite from those fans behind the away goal with many other abroad students, but I joined in as many chants as I could. If I could understand them, that is.
Although Roma sustained a solid front against the world class Real Madrid offense headed by the Portuguese sensation, Cristiano Ronaldo, they broke down in the 57th minute of play. Assisted by a beautiful through ball from the gifted Brazilian left-back, Marcelo, Ronaldo performed a classic behind the boot chop, sending Roma’s right back sliding away. Seemingly destined for the back of the net, Ronaldo lifted the ball up and over the Roma keeper, Wojciech Szczeny, from just outside the 18 yard mark. Watching one of the best players in the world score such a masterful goal in itself was breathtaking, and can’t be described through words, but what stunned me more was the absolute silence that fell over the stadium. It would not be an exaggeration to say one could hear the drop of a pin, besides the minority of Real Madrid fans that made the trek from their stomping grounds, the Bernabeu, in Madrid.
Another goal came soon after in the 86th minute by the Spanish winger, Jese Rodriguez, a consolation goal that sealed Roma’s fate at 2-0. Several attempts by Roma’s forwards failed to land on target despite some clear chances, and even the substitution of Italian legend, Francesco Totti or “il Capitano”, still proved to be futile. Characteristic of a depressing loss at home, some fans funneled out of the stadium minutes before the final whistle was blown, a fitting end to a disappointing fixture. Although the loss meant the almost definite end to their stay in the Champions League, many fans still stayed behind to applaud the effort of their team, a unique and respectable gesture.
I’m extremely lucky to have witnessed one of these matches, a surreal experience that I won’t forget. The sport in general is very exciting to watch, and is often overshadowed by the passion for football, baseball, and basketball that is bred into Americans. Even if it’s a game of FIFA or watching the varsity team play at Trinity, I strongly encourage anyone out there to mix some soccer into their lives; everyone else is.
RUSSELL DAVIS ’17