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World Cup Prejudices

A comment by Walton to my previous post about the World Cup got me thinking about why I support the teams I do. Most of the time I find myself unconciously supporting a team. Walton mentioned that Trinidad and Tobago strips have been sold out in Scotland and wondered whether this was the traditional Caledonian rooting for the underdog?

Where does that tradition come from? A consequence of being under the yolk of the English oppressors? A victim mentality? Genetics? I’ve unquestioningly supported the underdog since I can remember. I do have some Caledonian blood in the mix somewhere, but if I have to remember the sense of power relations in my family, the stories I heard were usually of powerlessness, of the almighty other doing something terrible that no-one could do anything about.

So when Trinidad and Tobago play England, or Costa Rica play Germany, my allegiance is simple to determine. But there are exceptions, and subtleties. Who is the underdog when the USA play Italy? My allegiance arises spontaneously, and provides a good opportunity to examine the murky depths of my makeup. To my surprise, I found myself supporting the USA. I am clearly willing to forgive the USA their global domination and their political leadership when it comes to watching their battling, but not particularly good, team play a European football superpower. Then there’s Brazil, the football aristocracy, a cut above the rest, more World Cup wins than any other nation. I found myself supporting them against Croatia, a clear underdog. Brazil tend to play exciting soccer, their attacking flair making the game a joy to watch. From a young age I supported Brazil, perhaps mostly on hearsay about their famous 1970 World Cup winning team and the sublime artistry they brought to the game. When I began taking notice about these things they were not successful, and it wasn’t until 1990 when they next won the World Cup. However, their superb attacking play makes watching them a joy compared to the grinding efficiency of Croatia, who’ve now failed to score in two games. Italy on the other hand add excelling in defensive play to their successful football pedigree, meaning I’m almost always supporting the other team.

My take on Argentina is changing. As arch rivals of my childhood heroes Brazil, and having inflicted an infamous 1-0 defeat on a wonderful attacking Brazil in 1990 with a brand of negative soccer, they were already not high on my list. Other prejudices arise when I find myself supporting teams who exhibit fair and sporting play. Teams and players who dive, cynically take out opposing playmakers, or blatantly cheat, rapidly lose my respect. Argentina’s infamous hand-of-God goal when Diego Maradona used his hand to knock out England didn’t enamour me to the team. Similarly, the vicious elbow in the face of the US player by an Italian player have compunded Italy’s sins, so they’re probably the team I least support.

However, Argentina’s personality is changing. No longer a military dictatorship, and after years of failure, their scintillating 6-0 decimation of Serbia and Montenegro with some of the most sublime goals I’ve ever seen mean I’m beginning to associate them with the beautiful game a little more.

The Eastern European nations too, seem to be changing. Pre-communism they were successful and powerful football nations, with Czechoslovakia having reached the final in 1934, Hungary doing the same in 1938, and Yugoslavia the semi-finals in 1930. However, as a wild generalisation, after World War Two they seemed to take on the personality of the times, being solid, efficient, well-organised but afraid to show any of the individual flair so necessary for success.

I was surprised too to find myself supporting Australia against Japan. Australia are the cricket and rugby team everyone in South Africa loves to hate – superbly successful, and arrogant to boot. Add to that their conservative government’s policies. However, as a soccer team, Australia are real no-hopers, and have qualified for the World Cup for only the second time. Japan’s negative play when they went 1-0 up, and the spirited play from Australia meant I was cheering them as they ended up winning 3-1.

Let’s see what the next two weeks reveal!