Worst Sports Moments of My Life – Part 1

Sports bring a lot of joy to people. Fans revel in every victory. A lot of sports fans can point to a time where their team triumphed as one of the happiest moments of their lives. But maybe equally as impactful (and maybe more so) are the devastating losses by that team.

I’ve become a lot more impartial over the years when it comes to sports… that’s just a product of the sportscasting business when you have to try to look at everything from a neutral and unbiased point of view to make sure your commentary is professional.

There are still some moments though, that are painful for me to think about even to this day. Games that brought deep sadness, and in some cases even tears, when the clock hit zero and the score went final. Here’s the top three, starting with one that happened fairly recently.

Sweden vs Portugal Ibrahimovic goal

Event: 2014 FIFA World Cup Qualifying
Teams: Sweden vs. Portugal
Venue: Friends Arena – Solna, Sweden
Date: November 19, 2013

The first entry in this tale of disappointment came during qualifying for the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil. Now, while I may be an American (USA! USA! USA!) my favorite international soccer team is surprisingly Sweden. I should also mention that I am not of Sweden ancestry, no relatives living over there, no family stories connecting me in any way to the Scandinavian country.

Now that will probably lead to some head scratching for most of you (okay… ALL of you). You will find this is a theme repeated over and over again when it came to picking my favorite teams in each sport as a child. I’ve thought back to how I came to each of these and I’ll give an explanation for each one that comes up.

I did not pick teams based on their geographic location. I think for the most part this had something to do with growing up in the state of Maine where the only professional sports teams when I was a kid were the Portland Pirates (AHL) and Portland Sea Dogs (AA MiLB).

For whatever reason I never bought into the whole idea that just because Boston was the nearest place with major league teams, I had to root for them. I mean, for pete’s sake that was two whole states away… may as well have been on the moon for all the good it did me as a kid. (I think it also may have had something to do with the first sport that I really got into, which thanks to my father was NASCAR. And you pick a favorite driver in that sport, it doesn’t usually have anything to do with where that driver was born. That’s conversation for a different day, and possibly for a therapist, but that’s neither here nor there).

ANYWAY, back to the topic at hand, when I really got into international soccer in 2004, striker Henrik Larsson was my favorite player, and I started really following the Swedish team in their pursuit of EURO 2004 and the 2006 World Cup. I was hooked for life, and I can tell you more than you probably would ever want to reasonably know about Freddie Ljungberg, Andreas Isaksson, Olaf Mellberg, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and the rest of the Swedes that have made up the national team scene since then.

Sweden missed out on the 2010 World Cup in South Africa to Portugal and Denmark, something that was very frustrating since the world’s greatest sporting event comes around just once every four years. So when Sweden emerged as runners-up in their UEFA qualifying group (behind eventual World Cup winners Germany, mind you), they had to go to the European play-off. Waiting for them was Portugal and their oily-haired, arrogant, diving, whining captain Cristiano Ronaldo… one of the best players in the world.

I desperately wanted Sweden to emerge out of this two-legged play-off and book a ticket to Brazil. I didn’t necessarily expect them to go on and win the whole shebang, but there’s something about just qualifying for the World Cup that is immensely special.

Sweden disappointingly played defense-first football (yes FOOTBALL… I insist on referring to that game that the NFL plays as American Football) in the first game, on the road in Portugal. The winner of the play-off was the team with the most combined goals from the two games, with a tie going to the team with the most goals scored by the team on the road, so in a way it made sense for the Swedes to try and hang on, keep the score down, and head back to Scandinavia where they’d have more luck sparking their offense in front of a friendly crowd.

Portugal grabbed a 1-0 win (stupid Ronaldo grabbing a late winner) to set up the must-win showdown in Solna. The way the qualifying calendar for the World Cup stretches out (and on and on and on it seems like), the penultimate game came in the middle of a west-coast workday for me in Stockton, CA. I put the game on my laptop courtesy of ESPN3 and tried my best to get at least some work done and not spend every second of the next two hours staring at it (I had only been on the job for a couple months, the season was young and there was still plenty to do).

Sweden lacked offensive firepower in the first half, and a scoreless first 45 minutes meant they needed to come out of the gate with something inspired to keep their dreams alive. However, it was maddeningly Ronaldo (again…) who broke the seal in the 50th minute for a 1-0 lead. To add injury to insult, Portugal now had an invaluable away goal, which Sweden did not, so the Swedes now had to score THREE goals in the next 40 minutes in order to go through.

Depression was starting to set in for me as the minutes wound down (I was by this point hopelessly engrossed by the game and wasn’t worried about letting the rest of the office know it) when that gloriously egomaniacal, occasional teammate-punching, footballing genius by the name of Zlatan Ibrahimovic decided to do what he does best: he Zlatan-ed things up (if you think my use of his name as a verb is somewhat odd you should check out his autobiography, I Am Zlatan). First, he powered home a header from a corner kick in the 68th minute, outmuscling the static Portuguese defenders who dared try and jostle him. Just a few moments later he absolutely blasted a free kick (pretty sure there were flames coming off the back of the ball, like some kind of insane video game) into the back of the net from just outside the box in the 72nd minute.

Sweden were leading the game 2-1 and were amazingly now just ONE GOAL away from completing a highly improbably comeback and sending Ronaldo sulking back to his tanning bed. The goals seemed to come from nowhere, and the emotional upswing I experienced at that time was something that has rarely happened to me before. I literally leaped out of my chair and charged up and down the rows of cubicles in the office, not really doing anything, but being unable to contain my excitement. It was exhilarating.

That’s when it all came crashing down. Sweden, now playing with confidence and being urged on by roaring fans, decided to go for it and threw most of its players forward hoping to capitalize on the momentum and get the necessary goal quickly. But just five minutes after Ibrahimovic’s second strike, a quick counterattack from Portugal sprang Ronaldo (AGAIN!) loose on goal all alone, where he drove the ball past Isakkson and drove a dagger into Swedish hearts.

It was like all the air was sucked out of my lungs. I literally felt like I had been sucker-punched. It was devastating. Ronaldo (whom I didn’t care for much already as you might have noticed) suddenly became an object of irrationally intense hatred to me. Sweden now needed two goals in the last 13 minutes.

While it wasn’t impossible (heck, Ibrahimovic had just scored twice in four minutes), it felt even less likely than at any point before. All the momentum and energy was gone. The moment had passed. As if to rub it in, and prove that perception to be accurate, Ronaldo scored (AGAIN!!!!!!!!!) less than two minutes later to effectively end the game. Sweden had failed to qualify.

It might seem odd that this game could cause me so many painful emotions, especially as someone not even from the country it was affecting and who, as an adult and a sports broadcaster, understands better than the average fan that the game is ultimately just a game and there will be another one relatively soon. Emotions though, are rarely rational, and that stretch of around 12 minutes (the 67th to 79th minute) was like a rollercoaster from low to high to low that I can’t recall ever experiencing in my life.

Here’s to Russia 2018.


2 thoughts on “Worst Sports Moments of My Life – Part 1

  1. Foley

    I feel your pain, I like Sweden and can’t stand Ronaldo and Portugal. I was quite disappointed when they advanced. Probably not as upset as you for that game, USA and Argentina are my teams and when they lost like they did in the World Cup I was hurting.


    1. calebmlamb Post author

      Things seem to sting a bit more when the next shot at cheering for your team’s redemption is four years away rather than next season. That darn world cup…



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