Indeed the world has once again gone soccer (football) mad. Despite FIFA’s endemic corruption, despite Putin’s oligarchic Russia buying the games, despite Ronaldo’s massive tax-fraud bill, fans around the world are far more excited for the World Cup than they would be for the Olympics or an election.
So what happens for us poor sods from a country with no horse in the race? The World Cup is everywhere and it is fun to get swept up into the energy (no matter how boring the actual game is ;).
As a Canadian, soccer is simply not all that important. We all play, of course and I even coached for a few years when Finn was younger. I often joke that I cannot really play football as my skates get caught in the grass.
But I will argue that Toronto may be the best city on earth from which to enjoy the beautiful game. Toronto may well be the most ethnically diverse city ever, and therefore each participating nation has a local community. As I write this, Iceland are playing Argentina and undoubtedly there is a bar somewhere in Toronto full of actual Icelanders and Argentines cheering, hugging and drinking. But not fighting. Thats the best part of watching soccer in a place that reserves violence for the ice rink.
I have often been swept up in World Cup fever simply by being close to people who really do care.
For three World Cups I was in Europe. I remember a poll on English TV stating 96% of respondents thought England would win. The poll was taken in England.
I was in Dublin when France won the Cup at home in Paris. The young French waitress actually cried!
On my last trip to Peru, we were able to witness the good, the bad and the ugly as Peru met New Zealand for a two-game playoff for the final qualifying spot. It was fun to see Peruvian TV explaining what a Kiwi is! The World Cup is one of the few times truly random countries meet. This is wonderful. It was also fun to watch Peru’s President Kucznsky (now resigned for corruption) offer workers a national holiday in exchange for a victory.
The ugly occurred in the stands when a few fans used laser pointers to distract New Zealand players.
The ‘ugly’ also occurs with the ridiculous hooligans who think soccer is about fighting (its not even a violent sport). We could start a whole other World Cup where we put all those sadistic brutes into a stadium and let them fight it out. But for added pleasure, we wouldn’t watch or even care!
So, down to the nitty-gritty. As a Canadian, who has lived in Europe and South America, who should I cheer for?
When Ireland qualifies, that would be a no-brainer. But they are not in – and really do not deserve to be until the two football federations on the little island are united (as is the case with rugby).
In terms of the other European sides, I cannot really pick a team for reasons ranging from hooliganism to personal preference – although everyone must have a soft spot for Iceland. With 300k inhabitants that island country is very impressive (as long as they stay away from banking).
I would support Chile – having lived in that long, thin country – but alas, they did not qualify this year either.
Peru – of course, but after the really over-the-top shenanigans while qualifying, I have withheld my unsolicited support.
Argentina / Brazil … nope. Too much acting on the pitch. Uruguay! There is a good argument here. They once beat Brazil at home, and with under 4 million people, Uruguay is the second smallest country in the tournament. They also eat the most meat per-capita of any country on earth (not too relevant, but interesting nonetheless).
The three lowest rated teams are Russia, Saudia Arabia and Australia. I can’t support Russia. Putin and cheating in sports. Saudia Arabia. Nope. Australia – tempting, but no mate.
We would love to see an African country take the cup home, but my decision is made. After much deliberation, contemplation and soul searching, I have chosen to throw my unbridled support behind PANAMA! Much like Switzerland, it is a country *You Can Bank On 😉 !
Actually, on our latest trip to the isthmus country we procured Panama shirts for just a few dollars! The country is thrilled and humbled by their qualification to the finals. So there it is.
If they fail to move on from the first round, then I will have to choose another country to support for some random reason. I still do not really enjoy watching football, but it is so fun to see the world come together around a bunch of people kicking a ball (and feigning injury).