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Alessandro Del Piero. More than 20 years. Over 700 games. 289 goals. Countless celebratory cheers and laughter, screams of joy, tears of anguish and pride. A lifetime of memories. A true role model. And a complete legend.
Legends don’t retire or die. Hence, they are called legends.
When I recollect memories of my childhood, football plays a prominent part. I can tell you precisely where I was during each World Cup final. My Dad was a crazy soccer fan. I wanted to grow up and become a professional soccer player, but of course, girls weren’t even allowed on the same field as boys where I grew up. While I will settle for being a lawyer or professor, the love for the sport remains.
My favorite sports club outside my country of origin is Juventus in Italy. The craziness started in 1990, when I was only 5 years old. I vaguely remember watching some tapes of the 1990 World Cup and Italy playing in blue. I liked the color blue so I started cheering for the team. And then there was Roberto Baggio, scoring one of the best goals I’ve ever seen on the World Cup stage:
I became a crazy Baggio fan and would collect newspaper and magazine clippings about him. He had just transfered to a club called Juventus in Italy for the largest transfer fee in history at the time, and went on to win “World Player of the Year” in 1993. He was sought after by many clubs, including Manchester Utd, but finished his career in Italy. He was classy — not hot-headed and arrogant like the “stars” today, but a player with boundless energy, talent and creativity, who came back many times after being written off due to injuries.
I had a shaky moment when Baggio left Juventus for AC Milan in 1995. I didn’t know whether to follow him and build allegiance with a new club or whether to stick with Juventus. Fortunately, this young “golden boy” called Alessandro Del Piero made it easy to continue supporting Juventus.
At first, I didn’t like him. He was a good player, almost as good as Baggio, but it wasn’t a case of “love at first sight.” He was replacing my favorite! In my mind, there could never be another Roberto Baggio. And I was right. Del Piero has carved his own place in football history. He doesn’t need to be another Baggio, because he is Del Piero.
I grew up watching Del Piero spin his magic for Juventus and Italy. In the last 19 years, Del Piero has played 704 games for Juventus, enjoying a total of 48,785 minutes on the pitch. He has scored 289 goals, hit the woodwork 68 times and missed 12 penalties. He has won 387 games, drawn 197 and lost 120. He has been shown 50 yellow cards, and just two red.
But statistics do not do him justice. Over the last 19 years, he has stuck by Juventus, refusing to leave even when the team was relegated to Serie B following a controversial match-fixing scandal. At Juventus, he wasn’t just an important player — he was the only player that mattered. He worked hard to get the team promoted to Seria A again and rebuild the squad over many seasons. He shunned offers from big name clubs at the peak of his career. He continues to embody honesty, integrity and loyalty like no other athlete. A European Cup and World Cup winner, Del Piero may not have the fame of David Beckham, Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi, but there is little doubt that he is one of the best footballers of this generation.
On Sunday, at the age of 37, Del Piero played his last game for Juventus, scoring his last goal for the club, and like a true captain, lifted the scudetto that Juventus won at the end of the season, unbeaten in Italian Serie A.
For Juventus, there will never be another Alessandro Del Piero.
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Hollywood star Ashton Kutcher can don the Brazilian soccer jersey and cheer for the South American team without bringing his citizenship under scrutiny. But apparently a 12-year old can’t wear a Mexico soccer jersey to school without enduring punishment.
Last month, when Coral Avilez attended her performing arts class at Big Bear Middle School in California, she wore a Mexico soccer jersey in anticipation of the Mexico-South Africa World Cup game. For that, she was chided by her teacher.
When the teacher asked 12-year-old Avilez whether she supported Mexico, the young girl replied in the affirmative — and was shocked when the teacher questioned the legality of her presence in the United States. Maybe the educator thought she was in Arizona. (Papers, please.)
The American-born Coral Avilez was then told by her teacher that “people like you make me pay higher taxes and make my insurance rate go up.”
All right, listen up, Mexican soccer fans. You may have been knocked out of the second World Cup round, but you can take consolation in knowing that you have the power to raise U.S. taxes and insurance rates — all by virtue of your support for a soccer team!
In all seriousness, the teacher’s bigoted behavior reveals how fraught Mexican-American identity is in the United States, and how it often serves as a proxy for illegal presence. Cheering for a team other than the United States does not make one any less American. But for people of color — especially for Mexican-Americans — apparently a certain burden of proof is required beyond just an American birth certificate to justify presence in this country.
Despite the U.S.’s diverse makeup, for many, the idea of a true American citizen still remains someone who’s non-Hispanic white. Mexican-Americans are treated as second-class, hyphenated citizens — including those with claims to birthright citizenship. Many have to carry their U.S. passports at all times (hello, Arizona), for fear of being perceived as an invading Other and getting subjected to the horror of deportation.
It’s sad that we have re-appropriated parts of Mexican futbol — such as screaming “GOOOOOOOAAAAALLL!” like the Univision commentators — and yet even in the 21st century, we still haven’t been able to embrace a more expansive notion of American identity.
FINAL: World Cup 2010 Draw Group A South Africa, Mexico, Uruguay, France
Prediction: South Africa and Mexico. France qualified by cheating and unless they cheat again, they are going home after Group A.
FINAL: World Cup 2010 Draw Group B Argentina, South Korea, Nigeria, Greece
Prediction: This one is close as South Korea and Greece are known to spring surprises. Argentina and Nigeria.
FINAL: World Cup 2010 Draw Group C England, USA, Algeria, Slovenia
Prediction: This looks like a relatively easy group. England and USA unless things go terribly wrong with the North-Atlantic hegemony.
FINAL: World Cup 2010 Draw Group D Germany, Australia, Ghana, Serbia
Prediction: Another tough group as far as Germany is concerned, who underperform during qualifiers but buck-up at the World Cup finals. Australia and Germany though Ghana is also capable of surprises.
FINAL: World Cup 2010 Draw Group E Netherlands, Japan, Cameroon, Denmark
Prediction: Netherlands is a shoo-in for this one with Cameroon and Denmark battling it out.
FINAL: World Cup 2010 Draw Group F Italy, New Zealand, Paraguay, Slovakia
Prediction: Italy has a history of under-performing in the Group Stage so while this group looks easy, the Azzuri won’t make it easy for themselves. Paraguay and New Zealand would be strong contenders if they get over the initial stage fright.
FINAL: World Cup 2010 Draw Group G Brazil, North Korea, Ivory Coast, Portugal
Predictions: Brazil and Portugal will be a fire-cracker of a game and they should both qualify without much problems unless Kim Jong-il intervenes with a nuclear warhead.
FINAL: World Cup 2010 Draw Group H Spain, Honduras, Chile, Switzerland
Predictions: Spain battled a history of under performance by winning the European Championships. A qualification for Honduras would be sweet given the political upheaval in the country. For now, Spain and Chile.
There are no easy games at the World Cup Finals. It will be totally fantastic to see the Pacific, Asian and African nations spring surprises and send the European teams packing.