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18.6.2006
Living a dream

- I envy you mate. You are living my dream. Is it as good as we thought it would be?

- You donít even believe, itís so much better, Australian defender Tony Popovic tells me over the phone from Germany.


What Mona Lisa is for every painter and waking up next to Angelina Jolie for every man, playing in the World Cup is for all footballers. It is the most beautiful muse, piece of art which sums up all dreams and desires. Every respectable football person has scored a winning goal in the World Cup final. My first was a flying header against Peter Shilton 1982. It went in between the oak tree and gardening table in our back yard. Last night again I woke up after my long shot had beaten Dida. Lifting the trophy for my home country is the wettest dream Iíve had since I was a little boy.

Either me or Popovic are not going to score the World Cup winning goal in real life. This childhood dream would require too much to happen. However, he is already living his fairytale. It is so weird that when after four years I finally anxiously open television to watch the mighty Brazil in the biggest estrade of football, my room mate in Crystal Palace trips for past five years will be there playing. Over the boring trips to Burnleys we have talked about everything between heaven and hell. For once, heaven is a place in Germany.

Not long ago it looked like the hell was a closer destination, though. I saw my friend with Crystal Palace reserves getting trashed by local amateur team Beckenham Town 5-0. If I had said that time, that maybe in six months he will be playing in front of the whole world against Ronaldinho, he would have probably beaten me up for being sarcastic. The miracle happened. I know he is not that bothered if he doesnít score a winner in the final. In many ways he already has.

I have gone through millions of times in my head what it would feel like playing in the World Cup. I donít think I ever will, though. I can have maximum one more go with my small nation with limited chances and resources, yet high hopes. I got to say that reality hurts. It doesnít hit you when you donít make it yourself. It does kick you in the teeth when someone asks you what he should take with him to the tournament. I donít normally do jealousy. However, when Popovic among many others booked a place in the tournament, I was happy for him but also felt bit sad for myself.

I have achieved more than I could have ever expected for in football. I know how it feels to run in front of 80000 supporters. I have felt so proud wearing my national team colours and represent everything that is dear for me. I have listened the Champions League hymn with my backbone. Still, it is not the World Cup. Iíd change all this for the hypnotized look in playerís face booking his family tickets for Germany and scouting Japanese players from tape. When I was six I started football because I couldnít think of anything better in life than playing in this tournament I saw on television. That dream has never changed. Iím thankful and privileged for everything football has given to me, but some dreams just donít let it go.

As I would have changed in that moment, so did Popovic when it was clear he was going to play in Germany. You could see he was a person waiting for something big. Preparing for it. Smiles and steps were springier and more determined. Not many things can get footballers so serious and change their attitude than waiting for the World Cup. Itís an anxious preparation to be ready to enjoy what you have so much hyped for all your life. Own expectations are out of every scale. The moment the referee blows the whistle every footballer will regret rest of his life if he is not ready. Popovic was already an ultimate professional but still wanted to check even smallest details to be sure. I respect him even more for making sure there canít be no room for being sorry or feeling ify, he was clear he could never forgive himself if he hadnít done everything to be as good and ready as possible to live his biggest dream. That would haunt any player forever. If you donít respect your dreams you are not worth them. He did.

Sometimes when you reach something you desire it could turn out to be not as big deal as you expected. The players I know donít look themselves in the World Cup. Not just the importance of the results but also the hardcore situation shows from how the players behave and play. Itís not a normal Saturday afternoon league game. All reactions look extreme, tensions overwhelming. There are surely expectations from outside but even more from inside. Players want everything out from this unique experience. With the World Cup, they usually get what they ordered for. Iíve had many friends who have participated the tournament, some have even won it. Without exception theyíve not been disappointed. Theyíve even not been able to describe what it has felt to be there.

When I spoke few days ago with Popovic he was short of words also, but I know him too well to hear even from his voice how much he was buzzing. I remember four years ago the agony when they missed the tournament by few minutes. Afterwards we both agreed over a coffee that we might as well finish playing football if we ever reached the World Cup because it couldnít possibly become any better than that. Now he tells me over the phone, that everything we have talked about it, thought about it, dreamed about it, itís even better. I donít know how it could be even better than the wildest dream, but when I see him carrying with pride his national team colours taking on Brazil in front of the whole world, I can understand it can. For me it would sum up my past, my future, everything I ever have believed in and lived for.

We can see it. We try to suck in the atmosphere. Play it again in the park or in our dreams. But we canít dance on the main floor. We just try to hear some music of it. Iíve been told that it feels like all the good things in football we could once as a little boy see as a bright dream of scoring that winning goal in a back yard.

In a way Popovic playing in Germany is closest I ever got to the World Cup. I share lot of same thoughts, dreams and ideas with my friend. I watched him train and prepare for the tournament. Booking tickets for his family. Scouting their opponents. Learning about Germany. Doing the interviews. Living the dream.

- You know I probably never make it so if it was anyone else than you I would be so jealous, I told him.

- Well you can always start to paint or try to find your Angelina Jolie, he laughs back.



Aki


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