Monday, November 17, 2008

The Final Games

Upon my return to Auckland, from Christchurch, I found out that the appointments for the final games would be given out that evening. As I had refereed a semi-final, I knew that I would not referee either of the medal games, but there was a chance that I would be a 4th official. Also, because USA was in the final (against Korea), the only appointment that I could receive was a 4th official on the bronze medal game.

That afternoon we had a recovery training session in the gym where we rode the bike and ran on the treadmill. This was followed by stretching and abdominal work. After a quick shower we were back in the debriefing room for the semi-final debrief. That was stressful! Having only 2 games (as opposed to the usual 4 games), means that you are under the spotlight even more. And my game definately had some major decisions in it to talk about. I'm not going to lie...there were beads of sweat running down my back! As is the case with all games, there were some things to improve on, but all of the major decisions held up under video replay. Thank God, it must have been all those crossed fingers and toes!

That evening, daht dan na (I have no idea how to spell that, but imagine the sound)...the final envelope appeared. Bronze medal game: Natalia, Vivian, Judit, and PYE!!! more game. Gold medal game: Silvia, Cleidy, Maria, and Kirsi. I was very excited that I would get to be part of one of the medal games. It would also be my 6th game of the tournament (3 middles, and 3 fourth officials).

When we arrived at the stadium Sunday morning, we noticed that there seemed to be more activity than usual. There were a lot of people in FIFA suits, media vests, and a ton of security guys, and I'm talking HUGE guys. There was one guy in the hallway whose job it was to stare at the locked FIFA storage door. I think the trophies were in there, but can you imagine, standing in a hallway for 8 hours, staring at a closed door. When I walked past I said, "having fun?" and his reply was, "not really", poor guy!

The game itself was fairly uneventful. Germany ended up winning 2-0 and were definately the better team on the day. I was fairly busy as a 4th official because both teams used all their subs (3) and of course there were a few injuries as all the girls were tired and playing hurt. And as you can imagine, all of this happened at the same time.

After the game we went up to the VIP lounge to watch the final. Mr Blatter (FIFA president) was unable to attend, but Franz Beckenbauer (a German soccer superstar), was there, and I got my picture taken with him, as you probably already saw at the top of this post! The final game was very entertaining. USA scored early in the 1st half, and held the lead for most of the game. Korea was able to tie the game up in the 78th minute which sent the game into extra time. In the second period of extra time, Korea scored again and hung on to win. As soon as they scored, the referees from the 3rd place game had to rush downstairs because we were part of the medal presentations. It was so cool to be down on the field with all 3 medal teams. There were over 16,000 people in the stands waving flags, playing drums, and generally just yelling! The dignitaries were lead in with the medals and trophies. The golden glove, golden boot, and fair play trophies were awarded. Then the referees for the bronze medal game went up and we received our medals, followed by the referees from the gold medal game. The medals are so cool, they actually say on the them, Referee 3/4 place. Then the teams went up and received their medals. Standing on the field, watching those players who had been working so hard for so long receive their medals - what an amazing thing to be apart of! It is kinda neat too, because I got to referee all 3 of the top teams.

As we boarded the bus to head back to the hotel for the last time, I felt a bit sad. It was hard to believe that this adventure was coming to a close. We had been in New Zealand for 28 days, met some really great people, refereed some future national team stars, and learned so much about soccer, and ourselves, it was hard to believe that we were nearing the end.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Semi Sweet!

It is currently Saturday evening in New Zealand on Nov 16th and I am just sitting in the Internet Room on my last night. I will back up a few days and let you know what has been going on here.

The day after I found out that I would be retained until the end of the tournament, I was notified that I would be refereeing the semi-final match between Korea and England on Thursday Nov 13th in Christchurch. Yay!!! One of my goals when I arrived in New Zealand was to visit all 4 cities of the tournament: Auckland, Hamilton, Wellington, and Christchurch. I had refereed in both Hamilton and Wellington, and I have been living in the Hyatt Regency in Auckland for the past 4 weeks…so…Christchurch was the only city I had left to visit, and to have the honour of refereeing the semi-final there…so cool!

Me and my team of Mayte (Mex), Yvonne (El Sal), and Kirsi (Finland), left for Christchurch on Wed evening. We arrived at the hotel around 9pm, had dinner, did our pre-match meeting, and went to bed. The next morning we had breakfast and then spent a couple of hours (and a couple of dollars) out exploring the city and buying some souvenirs. Christchurch is called the “Garden City” and has a strong English influence. It is a beautiful old city with a square in the center with an old cathedral. There is also a 6 km park in the heart of the city with 30 soccer fields and a free golf course. While we wandered around, we talked to a lot of people (well I did most of the talking as I was the only one who really spoke English), and it was neat because everyone knew about the tournament and were excited to meet us. That is the difference between a big city and a small city!

The morning of the game I was, of course, nervous, but really excited. I had refereed both teams before so I knew what to expect, although, having said that, a semi-final match adds a whole new level of pressure to the game. I have to say, it was an extremely competitive game with many difficult decisions. At the end of the day, I am happy with my performance in the game. Korea beat England 2-1 and because of the close score, the game never really let up. In the 90th minute, one of my assistants rolled her ankle pretty badly, and I stopped play to go over and see if she was OK. For a moment, we weren’t sure if she could continue, and the 4th official may have to replace her, but…she stuck it out, and finished the game. Immediately after the game, she was taken to the hospital for X-rays, but it was just a sprain, and she will be as good as new in a few days.

Being part of such a highly competitive and important match was a great experience. It was heartbreaking to see the faces of the England team after the game. They have all worked so hard, it’s just too bad that everyone can’t win! There’s the teacher in me.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Release Dinner

I am so sorry about the huge delay in updating my blog. I thought that the last week would have a lot of down time, but there hasn't seemed to be much time to do anything at all...strange. I will break down my last few days into a couple of blogs to prevent those of you who actually read this, rather than just looking at the pictures, from having to read a novel. On Monday Nov 10, we had a farewell sunset cruise on a boat. Nothing more romantic than a dinner cruise with 50 women, and 8 men, dancing was rather interesting! A couple of nights before, we were informed that each confederation would have to put on a short presentation that represented their countries. We had only 5 people from CONCACAF and I have to say...I thought we were pretty good. We did a combination of each of our countries. For El Salvador we did a dance (Coumbia..?), for Canada, we sang "O Canada" (hilarious), and for Mexico we sang "Cielito Lindo" (again, hilarious). I have say, all the presentations were very good, and it was so cool to see each region perform dances and songs that were native to their area. It was also nice to get out of the hotel and enjoy an evening with each other.

The next day the referees who had been released all left for the airport. It was a tough day, with lots of mixed emotions. On one hand, you were happy that you were staying, and on the other hand, you were sad that you had to say goodbye. Goodbyes are always difficult for me, and in this situation, I had met a lot of good friends and was sad to see them go.

At dinner, we were provided with the much anticipated appointments for the semi-finals on Thursday. Again, Edgar walked in with an envelope and read off the appointments for the 2 matches. First match, Korea vs England....Michelle, Yvonne, Mayte, and Kirsi. Second match, USA vs Germany....Cha, Min, Lee, and Natalia. I had a semi-final....whooooo.... so excited! Cross those fingers again....1 more game to go!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

And the Adventure Continues...

Last night we had a meeting at 9pm, once all the referees had returned from the quarterfinal matches. We were all pretty sure that the purpose of the meeting was to inform us who would be staying, and who would be going. Obviously we were all very nervous and the tension in the room was high. Edgar came in with an envelope which said, “Final Referee Appointments”. He then thanked everyone for their contribution and hard work over the past 3 weeks, but unfortunately we would not all be continuing on in the tournament. They had decided to keep only 5 referees and 10 assistants. Considering that we have 14 referees and 26 assistants, those aren’t really good odds. Like I said before, I really wanted to stay, but considering this is my 1st FIFA tournament, and I have only been a FIFA referee for 2 years, I knew there was a good chance that I would be going home. If this was the case, I would be happy with my 1st experience and proud of how I performed both on and off the field.

Anyways, once Edgar had said all his thank yous (which I’m not gonna lie, I didn’t really hear), he opened the envelope and read the names. And guess what, he read my name…Pye, Michelle…heheheh! Yay! I was so excited. To be one of only 5 referees chosen to continue in this tournament is such an honour. I am very proud to be able to continue to represent CONCACAF and Canada. There are only 4 games remaining, and 5 referees, so obviously one of us will not get a middle, but for me, just being chosen to stay is very exciting. I have heard that the FIFA president, Mr Joseph Blatter will be at the final game…maybe I will get to meet him!

So, it looks like my adventure is going to continue for 1 more week. It feels like I have been gone for so long (which I guess I have), but I have learned so much, and met so many great people. I am not sure when the appointments will be given for the semi-finals, but I will let you know as soon as I find out what they will be. I hope everyone is well, and things are good in BC (or wherever you are from!). I am really missing my Venti Vanilla Tea Misto with Awake Tea and non-fat milk and sugar-free vanilla. Yeah, I am officially one of those….those annoying Starbucks snobs!

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Down Time

Lately we have had a lot of down time. Well...that's actually not totally true, we have had a lot of time with no games. Well....that's not really true either. I, have had a lot of time without games. The quarterfinals were played yesterday and today. Yesterday, North Korea beat Denmark and Germany beat Canada. Both teams were expected to win and both games were very fair with only 10 fouls in the 1st game! Today, USA beat South Korea and England beat Japan. Both of these results were unexpected...especially Japan losing. They were huge favorites to win the whole tournament.

I did not have an appointment on any of the quarterfinal games which meant that I had training every morning. Now, don't get me wrong, I LOVE to train (huge eyeroll), but getting up every morning at 8am to head out for training does get very tough. We train for 2 hours everyday. 1 hour of fitness, and 1 hour of technical training (game situations). It is really, really good as I have learned so much, but please, just 1 day to sleep in :(

We have done a bit of shopping in the last few days...and I use the word "bit" very lightly. I may, or may not, have bought another pair of running shoes. They're so nice! We also went on an outing, in normal clothes...yay... to the SkyTower (a really tall building), which overlooks all of Auckland, and to the local market, where I did some more shopping. We also organized a movie night with all the referees. Unfortunately I showed the movie, 40yr Old Virgin, which was a bit in appropriate. The next night I showed , Step Up, which was so much better. I have now been termed "Cruise Director", so I was thinking about playing a bit of shuffleboard tonight! The weather here is finally a bit sunny, and I am working on getting rid of my "ghost in the pool" look. We have a meeting this evening to find out (I think), the appointments for the final 4 games. I am hopeful that I will get another game, but if I don't, I am also very happy with my tournament so far. I will keep you posted.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Two Down! I have officially refereed 2 World Cup Games, and I am happy with both of them. Yesterday I refereed the match between Germany and Korea DPR. This was an important game as it determined 1st and 2nd in Pool B. For Korea, they needed to at least tie to ensure that they made the quarter final because if they lost, and Guana won, Korea would be out.

I worked with a new crew for this game. Yvonne (El Salvadore) was with me last time, but my other assistant, ,Vivian (Netherlands), and Kirsi (Finland)were new. It was a good team, and the atmosphere before the game was very relaxed. The evening before the match we did some meditation and visualization with Esther (psychologist) which was very helpful. I definately felt more calm before this game than I did before the last one because I knew what to expect and I had already been to Hamilton 2 days before so the stadium was familiar.

Both teams were so well-behaved that they really didn't need me there. I called only 18 fouls in the whole game and had no cautions. Those are the games where you can let your guard down and then mistakes happen, so I worked very hard to make sure that this was not the case. Germany scored in the 4th min against the run of play, and Korea DPR was able to tie the game up early in the second half. From that point on, I really got the impression that both teams were happy with a tie, and so was I!

Today we had a recovery training session in the pool, and this afternoon we are going to the Stadium in Auckland to watch the 2 games there (England vs Korea and USA vs France). It is cool when we go to the stadium because we get to sit up in the VIP lounge and there are hot drinks and snacks for us. They even have waiters that serve food on platters...we are so important! hahah

I have also included a photo of our aerobics training session from the other day. That was funny! Watching referees try to do aerobics!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Guess What?

I have another the middle...yay! I will referee the match between Germany and Korea DPR tomorrow afternoon. I am excited to get another match and I am going back to Hamilton where I just came back from, which is good because I am familiar with the stadium. I must go to a debriefing meeting right now where we talk about the matches and watch clips from the past 4 games. I will write a bit more when I get a chance in the next couple of days and I'll be sure to add some more photos. I hope everyone is doing well back home! I miss all of you, but I am having a great time!