The problem comes because Steinbach and Providence have given me so many friends from around the world. Some of our best friends are German, so I should cheer for Germany. But I remember watching England vs. West Germany in 1966 and Netherlands vs. West Germany in 1974 (both on TV—my first international games on little black and white TV sets). Those games established my European loyalties as a convinced Anglophile. I cheer against Germany, and rejoice that my friends can be glad with Germany’s success.
We have good friends from Colombia. Lois always enjoys having Colombian students in her English class because they make good classes even better and more enjoyable. So I should cheer for Colombia. But I remember watching Brazil against Italy in 1970—my first game in colour, watching with my soccer-playing friend from college, Dale Engle on his colour TV. I remember Pele (his last game for Brazil in the World Cup) leaping high to head the ball in with amazing power from about 12 yards out, the goalie rooted to goal line. That game established my love of Brazilian soccer. So I cheered for Brazil against Colombia, and I would have celebrated my friends’ delight had Colombia advanced.
We have good friends from Argentina too; but supporting England means not cheering for Argentina (think Maradona and the hand of God in 1986). It also means that I can enjoy the goal Maradona scored later in that match: I remember four English players strewn like leaves on the field as the camera panned back from Maradona’s goal to the players he had left behind, lying on the ground.
So it goes. I cheer for some teams and root against others, but I enjoy brilliant play wherever it comes from. I cheer for England (out) and the USA (out). I cheer for Holland (in as I type, but playing later today) and Brazil (in for a few more days). And I love the play of all.
Of course I dislike diving. Most players do it: Robben of Holland is named and guilty, but Mueller of Germany is equally skilled at scoring (a wonderful player!) and at claiming free kicks when someone grazes him lightly. Of course I dislike needless fouling. Most players do it: there’s a reason that certain fouls are called “professional fouls”. But my dislikes pale beside the valour and desire of the Americans, the attacking play of the Germans and the Dutch, the quick skill of the South Americans, the quick short passes of Spain and Portugal. From Ronaldo to van Persie to Mueller, from Neymar to Messi to Rodriguez, one after the other too many to name, they have brought me joy and delight as the World Cup progresses.
In the end one has to say also, soccer is a game; no more than that. When it ends each country still faces the challenges of daily life. I wish for Brazil success in dealing with the challenges that have led so many to question the money spent on the World Cup. Whether they go through the semi-finals and finals or lose their next game, thank you for the soccer (football as the rest of the world calls it), and success in the more important things of life.