I was eight, just a third grader. It was June 2016. I had my mind full, because the Copa America Centenario was happening, and my team, Argentina, was doing well, and had a good chance of making it to the final. When I got home one afternoon, my dad said, “We’re going to the Copa America final at Metlife! I have tickets!” I couldn’t believe my ears. I could be watching Argentina play in the final, live!
That weekend, I watched Argentina vs. U.S.A. – the semi-final – with anticipation. After ninety minutes of waiting, I knew I was going to see my favorite international soccer team play, with my favorite player: Lionel Messi! The next week was the longest week I could remember. I went from counting the days, to hours, to minutes. Finally, the big night arrived!
As we arrived at the Metlife Stadium, I heard the announcer talking about how you should drink Pepsi, and how they sponsored the game. I stepped into the stadium. Many smells filled my nostrils: hot dogs, burgers, chicken and so many other things. But I didn’t want any of it. I was too nervous to eat. I looked around. The stadium was huge! Each floor was packed with vendors that were selling all of these delicious things, and hundreds of people trying to find their seats. All of the Argentinian and Chilean fans were chanting in Spanish, the Argentinians in blue, the Chileans in red. Even though I couldn’t understand what they were saying, I could feel the strength in their singing, the passion.
I was one of those fans. A few years before, my dad’s friend from work had given me my first Argentina shirt, with Messi’s name on the back. When I got that shirt, I didn’t know who Messi really was, but since that day, I had followed his career and watched Argentina play many times. Now Messi was my idol, and Argentina was my team. I had to pinch myself to believe that I was actually going to see him play in less than an hour!
After a completely excruciating 40 minutes of waiting, while the two teams warmed up and my nerves took over, the game began. The first 10 minutes of the game were very even and then Argentina took control of the ball and I started to relax. I was about to ask my dad for something to eat, when an Argentinian, Marcos Rojo, fouled a Chilean player and got a red card! My heart sank. How could Argentina win the final when they had one less player than Chile? That thought got stuck in my head until a Chilean player also got a red card, and the teams were even once again.
The rest of the first half went by with little action and so did the second half. Because the score was still 0-0, and the teams couldn’t share the trophy, they played another 30 minutes of soccer. For the first time that day, that week, the reality dawned on me that Argentina might not win, but I pushed that thought away. I believed too much in this team for them to let me down. I sat on the edge of my seat until extra time was over. There was still no score. It was down to a penalty shootout.
Messi was going to take the first penalty for Argentina, but it was Chile’s turn first. Everyone in the crowd in front of me was standing up, blocking my view, so I had to listen to the crowd to know whether or not the Chilean player had scored. Penalty shootouts are usually a 50-50 battle, so there was no way of knowing who would win. Suddenly, a roar from the Chilean fans filled the stadium. He had scored. A sinking feeling tried to penetrate my confidence, but I wouldn’t let it. I had believed in this team for too long for them to let me down now. Then it was Argentina’s turn. “Piece of cake,” I muttered to myself, as Messi got ready to take the penalty. The whole crowd became silent, just like they were holding their breath. Out of nowhere, everyone gasped, and I saw the best player in the world bury his face in his hands and walk away to his team. He had missed! Tears started to pool in my eyes. He was the player that I’d wanted to see play more than anyone. And he’d let me down. I didn’t even care if Argentina won anymore.
“He missed,” my dad said breathlessly.
“I … I know,” I stuttered back. My dad and I stood and watched as Chile won the penalty shootout and the tournament.
My eyes became two faucets, and poured and poured. I got up from the slippery plastic seat and cried, “I don’t want to see them lift it!” (the trophy). “Okay, okay. We’ll go then,” said my dad. The train ride went by very quickly because I slept like a baby. It was, after all, 1:00am. As we pulled into Penn Station, my eyes popped open, and I was removed from dreamland. After the taxi ride home, just as my dad and I walked into the apartment my mom said,“I’m sorry.” I felt like throwing my Copa America scarf against the wall and storming into my room. I felt like giving up on Messi and Argentina for good. I wanted to do so many things because of the way I was feeling. But I didn’t do any of them. Instead, I walked over to my mom and gave her a hug…
As I lay my head on my pillow, I thought about what had happened at the Metlife Stadium. Messi was probably feeling way worse than I was. I thought of all the amazing goals I had seen him score before on TV. I couldn’t stop liking him because of one bad penalty. I knew I’d be cheering for Argentina again the next time they played. “This is the first time I have actually experienced being a real fan,” I thought to myself. “I now know what it is like to experience defeat, and I know that I will always stick with my team, no matter what.” My eyes then closed, and I plunged into a world of penalties, and Argentine fans chanting in Spanish.