TIME Writers’ World Cup Memories

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Instant nostalgia. There’s nothing quite like it. And so, we thought it was high time that we look back on the 2010 World Cup before it’s even come to an end! Below, some of our bloggers reflect on their favorite moments. Please be sure to add your comments below.

Bruce Crumley: Call me an old softie—and perhaps one reading too much into other peoples’ thoughts and actions—but I think my favorite moment of this Cup was watching the North Korean players react to the playing of their anthem, then playing what turned out to be a pretty scrappy match against Brazil, despite the loss. Obviously, becoming an elite player of any sport is a rarity enjoyed by few. Even less individuals get to savor the honor and joy of getting to represent their country in international sport. But given the horrible misery and hermit-like exclusion that the government of North Korea imposes on its people,  you have to figure just getting to the big show of World Cup play had to be even bigger milestone for players of the North Korean side than it did for members of any other nation attending. And for nearly 70 minutes of that opening match against what was then the hands-on favorite to win the entire deal, the NoKo boys certainly rose to the occasion.

The runner-up moment was walking around central Paris during Algeria’s opening match one Sunday afternoon and looking into cafes playing the game on TV to oggle crowd reaction. With all the trouble caused by racism in France, the considerably growing tide of Islamophobia, and politically cynical debate on “national identity” as a means of mobilizing support by stigmatizing “the other”, it was really nice to see regular, ordinary, everyday French people cheering Algeria as their default team after France. The history of colonization, the bloody war for independence, and continuing friction between the two nations (and within France) will always make Franco-Algerian ties touchy (and white France’s view of its ethnic Arab population prone to hysterics). But in the end there’s also a lot more shared identity and respect between the two countries than either side cares to admit. And that really showed among French audiences when Algeria was playing during this Cup.

Bobby Ghosh: A week into the tournament, on a Saturday afternoon, my wife and I were looking for a place to have brunch on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. To our astonishment, every place we checked was advertising itself as a venue for World Cup watching. Not just the sports bars — I mean EVERY eatery short of the Dunkin’ Donuts. Even Petaluma, an upscale-ish Italian restaurant where they have white linen service and would normally frown upon people speaking loudly, had a sign outside inviting people to catch Cup games in its bar. This was the first time we’d been in the U.S. during a Cup, and my expectations were low. But that Saturday afternoon brought home to me just how popular soccer has become in this country.

By 2014, I expect Dunkin’ Donuts to be showing the games, too.

Sean Gregory: You rarely see them in a soccer game. The observer has never witnessed one. I’m talking about buzzer shots, those last-second scores that give a team a dramatic win, and its fans a euphoric high. Soccer is all about control, or lack of it: since you can’t use your hands, it’s awfully hard to set up that last second-opportunity that controls your own destiny.

That’s why my favorite moment of the Cup was Ghana’s near-goal on the final play of extra-time during its quarterfinal tilt against Uruguay. With the game tied 1-1 and inevitably headed for penalty kicks, Ghana had one more chance, on a free kick. The set piece was a work of art – a ball delivered toward the box, then headed across four Uruguay defenders before being batted down by the Uruguay keeper, right onto the left foot of Ghana player who had a clear shot at the goal.

But Uruguay forward Luis Suarez positioned himself perfectly, in front of the net, to knock this flick off his leg. The rebound floated to the head of Ghana’s Asamoah Gyan, who quickly batted it back into the net. This time, Suarez had no defense but his hand – his intentional foul gave Ghana a penalty kick, and what looked like an improbable win. A World Cup’s worth of suspense and improbability unfolded over these ten seconds at Soccer City.

Of course, things became even more improbable: Guan missed the penalty kick that would have sent an African nation to its first World Cup semifinal, breaking a continent, and this fan’s heart (nothing against Uruguay, but I loved the African underdog narrative, and hated to see an athlete so obviously pained as Guan). Then Uruguay won on penalty kicks, making Suarez either the most clever, or sinister, player in the Cup, depending on your point of view.

Count me on the clever side. Turns out that in soccer, sometimes you can control destiny with your hands.

Tony Karon: Asamoah Gyan’s extra-time winner against the USA. In England, when a striker finds the net from a long ball played over the midfield from one end of the field to the other, they call it a “Route 1 goal,” in reference to the motorway that traverses all of Britain. By that measure, Gyan’s strike might have been deemed a “Pan African Highway” goal. Of course, there is no Pan-African highway, but the dream of uniting the continent into a single entity is usually associated with Ghana, and its founding president, Kwame Nkrumah. And that spirit was very much in evidence at Africa’s first World Cup, where it was abundantly clear early on as South Africa, Algeria, Cote D’Ivoire, Cameroon and Nigeria all floundered in the group stage — by the round of 16, only Ghana was left to fly the flag for Africa. And being back home, I was deeply moved to see South Africans of every hue and social station proudly flying the red, green and old flag with the black star that represents Ghana. (Our President emeritus, Nelson Mandela, later personally congratulated the Black Stars for what they did for all of Africa.)

But in the round of 16 showdown with the USA, with the score at 1-1 after 90 minutes, I was deeply worried. The young Ghanaians had run themselves ragged, and I feared the physical conditioning of the American players would trump Africa’s best hopes in extra time. Then came the Pan African Highway pass from the Ghanaian defense, aimed in the general direction of Gyan, a forward who had failed thus far to score from open play in the tournament. Gyan runs across the U.S. defense, opening his shoulders to take the ball on his chest as he bears down on the U.S. goal — at which point he’s whacked in the back by Jay De Merit, but stays on his feet, and in a single fluid movement lashes an unstoppable left-foot volley into Tim Howard’s net — and uniting all of Africa, from Cape to Cairo, Accra to Addis Ababa, in an all too rare moment of ecstatic elation. That’s my enduring memory from the 2010 World Cup.

Glen Levy: The goal that never was. That’s how we’ll all recall Frank Lampard’s perfectly placed lob that cleared the goal line by a good two feet in England’s second round clash with its old enemy, Germany. Coming so soon after England’s first goal (which, of course, turned out to be its only goal), the game could have turned on its head had Lampard’s lob stood. But though England were soundly and deservedly beaten by a young, vibrant German side (who have a great chance of winning EURO 2012), what I’ll remember most is how sad it is that in 2010, FIFA still hasn’t got it together to implement video technology to quickly review a controversial play and not just rely on the human eye, which, as far as I’m aware, has never been perfect. Proof positive came in the very next game, where the officials blew the call on Argentina’s opening goal against Mexico, which was clearly offside. And what’s crazy is that it takes far longer for the fuss to die down from the players than it ever would if the officials used technology. Give each team a challenge per half or three over the course of the entire game for major incidents to allow us England fans the opportunity to lose fair and square. At least the future looks brighter as FIFA’s general secretary Jerome Valcke told the BBC that this World Cup is set to be the last tournament under the existing refereeing system with the Lampard incident a “bad day.” One of many “bad days” for England fans since 1966.

Bill Saporito: It was 2-0 at halftime during the Slovenia-USA game and, sitting in the Ellis Park Stadium in Johannesburg, the distinct feeling of déjà vu had set in. Four years ago in Gelsenkirchen, Germany, we had watched the Americans cough up early goals to the Czech Republic on their way to a first round dismissal. Now, just as they had against England in the first game, the Yanks surrendered an early goal, this time in the 13th minute. And when Zlatan Ljubijankic added another before the half the Americans looked cooked.

Then something weird happened. Landon Donovan’s stunning goal in the 48th minute—a roof job struck with absolute fury— electrified the stadium. The many South Africans in the stands started cranking up the vuvuzelas, pumping out rhythmic noise as the Americans cranked up the volume on Slovenia. Non-Americans were rooting for the Americans, and against tiny Slovenia no less, the Cinderella of the tournament. How’d that happen? In the 82nd minute U.S. midfielder Michael Bradley would knot the score as the thrilling, scrambling comeback was complete. In fact, the U.S. scored the winner only to have it called back for a mystery foul. No matter. I’ve been to five World Cups and not once have I ever witnessed a crowd pulling for the Red, White and Blue this way. South Africa was rooting for Goliath. It was a strange, wonderful feeling. I doubt it’s going to happen again.