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Croatia's Luka Modric celebrates after winning the quarterfinal match between Russia and Croatia at the 2018 soccer World Cup in the Fisht Stadium, in Sochi, Russia, Saturday, July 7, 2018. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

PENZA: It’s been a relaxing World Cup for a change

One of my first assignments here at the Daily Tidings was to interview Ashland resident and Pulitzer Prize winner George Dohrmann. The main topic of conversation was his new book, Superfans, but there was something that both of could relate to one another in regard to.

After failing to qualify, neither of our favorite teams were going to play in the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

George is a tried-and-true United State Men’s National Team fan.

I, going with the bloodlines of my family, roll with the Azzurri, otherwise known as the Italian national team.

It’s safe to say you can describe us as two very soccer-hungry sports enthusiasts who know a thing or two about the stresses that comes with watching your team play in the World Cup group stage and knockout rounds.

But I sit here writing this column on the 12th anniversary of Italy winning the 2006 World Cup title in a very different kind of state of mind about the globe’s biggest sporting event.

It’s not that I don’t care at all because I still very much do.

No, no. It’s that going from stress-filled second halves are being replaced with a very relaxed state of mind.

It’s been, dare I say, quite the nice change of pace.

Would I have loved to see my soccer idol, 40-year-old Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, still playing in what would have been his record six World Cup? Well, I think both myself and you the reader know the answer to that — especially since the next two days of soccer will be some of the last World Cup games we see this summer.

But Italy not being one of the 32 teams at this year’s World Cup has been something I knew would be the case since mid-November.

I can tell you the feelings now aren’t what they were in the days after Italy failed to qualify after a two-legged tie with Sweden, a team that just lost to England in the World Cup quarterfinals.

Yet as I watch this World Cup, one that has been filled with plenty of memorable moments, not having every single possible bracket scenario go through my head for the better part of a month has been nice.

There are teams I have become a (temporary) fan of because of the club team I have rooted for the past two decades, seven-time defending Italian champion Juventus. And, because of there still being a Juventus representation at the World Cup, I pull for the players’ respective countries because I want to see them personally achieve international glory.

The biggest thing has just been to sit back and appreciate what I’m watching.

And, outside of the post-game euphoria of Italy’s win over France on penalty kicks 12 years ago, each game was basically two hours of stress-filled moments that left me exhausted even though I did absolutely no running whatsoever.

This year, the only thing I’ve been stressing has been my alarm clock going off for the early-morning games.

It’s been the chance to watch games differently, a way to analyze the game with no Azzurri-colored glasses that may cloud my judgment.

When Dohrmann and I talked a few months back, one of the most memorable things he told me about his soccer fandom was how he would always take an analytical approach to his post-game thought process, more than just declaring “We played like garbage” or something along those lines.

I can safely say I’ve done that same thing the last three weeks of World Cup action.

No Italy brings less stress, but it’s also allowed me to enjoy the actual soccer more than in previous editions.

It’s a different vantage point even though watching this World Cup is happening in the same spot it did as the previous four editions — my faithful recliner.

So, thanks, I guess, for giving something new to appreciate about this game I care so much about, Italy.

Enjoying what has been one of the most unpredictable World Cups ever — I mean, England might actually win it! — has been quite fun.

Contact Danny Penza at 541-776-4483 or dpenza@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at @penzatopaper.

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