"Gerrard," the barista said, pushing an oversized iced coffee toward the corner of the counter.
"Gerrard?" she asked again. "Gerrard? Or Gerald? Is it Gerald?" It sat unclaimed as cappuccinos and half-caffs came and went. "Hey, you," she said, nodding when I finally looked up. "Your coffee is thawing."
It was the name on my shirt. Gerrard. My No. 4 England home jersey, still wrinkled from being balled up and thrown across the coffee table on Sunday afternoon and still unfamiliar, despite the ongoing Euro 2012.
"Don't you know who Steven Gerrard is?" I wanted to ask, ranting about his passing, his delivery and his accuracy. "And why aren't you watching Spain-Portugal," I'd say, shoving my live-streaming iPad toward the flavored syrups. Instead, I mumbled a 'thank you' before promptly tie-dying all three embroidered Lions with a stream of spilled coffee.
I've spent the past two weeks immersed in Euro 2012, rearranging my afternoons around the group stages, reading oversized tabloid headlines and wondering when Mario Balotelli will do something that results in a homemade t-shirt and/or a detour to a women's' prison.
As a Liverpool supporter, England has always been 'my' national team, even though I have zero in common with the Three Lions other than a shared respect for Gerrard, a habit of being consistently disappointing and a willingness to fight someone over a Phil Collins song.
So Sunday's quarterfinal loss to Italy is just another penalty kick-in-the-teeth that will be etched into my — our — collective memories, a banner hoisted into the rafters beside 1990, 1996, 1998, 2004 and 2006, the retired numbers of shame. England spent 120 minutes on their heels, making the kind of hesitant, halting passes I haven't seen since prom night.
Despite controlling the pace of the game and the ball possession — a lopsided 68 percent — Italy didn't capitalize until Andrea Pirlo's gloriously cocky Panenka penalty kick gently shattered England's psyche, a move so perfectly douchey, he should've just popped his collar and broken up with Molly Ringwald on the way to midfield. It also served its purpose, making Ashley Cole look like Ashley Young and Ashley Young look like Ashley Olson.
That kick, and the two that followed, ended England's Euro vacation and they don't have anything on their national team calendar until, um, John Terry's racism trial. I should be doubled over in disappointment. And I was. I am. But it doesn't feel like my pain.
As much as I align myself with the team, and as many post-loss managerial excuses and sackings I've suffered through, I feel disconnected by both heritage and history. Even the songs feel wrong. I can't yell "I know I am, I'm sure I am" without feeling like I'm mouthing the words to a hymn I don't believe in.
Maybe Italy will be different.
I don't advocate changing colors, especially to the team that just Pirlo'ed all over your upholstery. It feels as uncomfortable as wedging your incisors into someone else's retainer: wrong, unfamiliar, awkward. But after more than a year of paperwork and Google Translate-ing, of apostilles and certified long form birth certificates, I'm three months from becoming an Italian citizen.
I qualify for dual citizenship jure sanguinis — right of blood — through my father's family. So after phone calls to long-forgotten halls of records and middle-of-the-night faxes (Thank you, 1990!) I'll check into the Italian Consulate and will walk out with a shiny second passport, like Jason Bourne if he were less lethal and more likely to trip over something in the lobby.
Will Italy feel more like 'my' team after I have a laminated picture and a validated parking ticket? I don't know, although my dad's hair alone should've given him a spot on the reserves. Football wasn't in the front of my brain when I started this process; it was a way to connect with family I've never known and never will, from my Renaissance painter relative to my great-grandfather to those distant cousins wedged intermittently between the Dolomites.
I don't know if my grandfather, an American citizen, was a soccer fan. The dates on my birth certificate and his death certificate are unsettlingly close together, so we never had the chance to talk about it. My memories of him are limited to his mustache, his dog and one Thanksgiving that has been faded by my mind's own Instagram filter. He shared his name with my dad. And he'll share his heritage with me.
Today I'll slowly try out my new almost-allegiance, as Juventus teammates (and 2006 World Cup winners) Pirlo and Captain Keeper Gigi Buffon try to play the umlauts off of Mesut Özil and the rest of Joachim Löw's Germans.
Although their last meeting was a 1-1 draw, Gli Azzuri are I Perdenti — the underdogs. Despite Pirlo's maddeningly accurate passes and the team's 36 combined shots against England, they won't have those kind of opportunities against Germany, who won't spend ninety minutes double-billing their defense as their offense.
Buffon has an 85.7 percent save percentage but he's only faced 23 shots on goal in four games; Germany has taken 33 shots on goal, scoring a Euro-leading nine times. Italy has managed four goals, netting half of them against an Ireland team that was weaker than a U2 B-side.
Germany has had an extra 48 hours to rest, recover and prepare. They know what Pirlo, what Mario Balotelli, and what Antonio Cassano are capable of (as opposed to Roy Hodgson, who seriously expected Chia Head Rooney to keep pressure on Pirlo).
I'll be watching, attempting a few tentative cheers for each cross, for each attack, just to see how it feels.
I know that Italy could get by without me. I'm just not sure it works the other way around.
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