Tuesday, 15 June 2010

World Cup Lessons

Last night, I was reading in a recent issue of Time magazine how Samuel Eto'o believes football is "the best weapon against political conflict." It may be. But as I'm sitting watching England's oldest allies play in the World Cup I have doubts. Logic says I should want to support a team my country hasn't fought against in a very long time. Emotion says differently. It's not because former England coach Sven Goran Eriksson is coaching the opposition. It probably has more to do with the owner of (arguably) the world's most punchable face just slamming a shot off the woodwork. I jest about the punching, of course, but the presence of Ronaldo in the Portugal side makes it hard offer them genuine support. (That said Droga's place in the Ivory Coast squad does do something to balance this out.) Memories of a cold night in Zenica, where a less-than-impressive Portuguese side ground out the narrowest of victories, remind me of how nearly this could have been Bosnia and Herzegovina in their first World Cup Finals game.

Admittedly, all of this passion and prejudice is not about to explode into political conflict so Eto'o is probably right. But Football is an issue of national pride, it gives opportunity for old issues to resurface. Back to Time's special World Cup edition. Why was I so frustrated by the article quoting the MLS commissioner saying: "America has always been the center [sic] of the universe, whether it's sports, culture, politics." Oh, the arrogance! Perhaps, however, football provides us a safe place for this kind of venting. Better that an over-paid sports star is the temporary focus of our ire than anything more serious.

I'm sitting watching this game with someone who whole-heartedly supported Germany's demolition of Australia the other night. If we must agree to disagree at times it serves as a good reminder that what we're both actually looking for is a good game of football, whoever we happen to be supporting. This far into the tournament only the Germans have really shown us good football. It's not just my Englishness that says I hope that changes!

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