It’s my favorite time of the year that only comes around every four years – the World Cup. Now, I’m not actually a fan of soccer. There’s nothing wrong with it but when it comes to sports that don’t involve bats and home runs, I have the attention span of a toddler. Give me 30 seconds of soccer highlights and I’ll love it – the other six hours or so of the match aren’t my cup of tea. (I have no idea how long a soccer match goes. I used to think it was 90 minutes, but then someone told me about stoppage time, where they kind of tack on more time at the end. So, you know.)
But the World Cup is a chance to see things you don’t see very often, and I’ll follow every day even if I won’t watch one match.
For starters, America perennially underperforms. We have more Super Bowl victories than anyone, more World Series rings, more NBA championships and are back-to-back World War champs. That last one is legit, too, no switching sides partway through. Looking at you, Italy.
But our soccer team never does well. This year especially, seeing as it never even made it to the World Cup. The team underperformed during qualification rounds and, needing a win against Trinidad and Tobago, lost. So America’s best players will be watching the game from their couches, like the rest of Americans.
Seeing America get beat at something it doesn’t really care about anyway isn’t the best part of the games. The best part is seeing countries on the world stage that you forget about the rest of the time. Remember Morocco? They’re in the cup this year. So is Croatia. And Senegal.
It’s the most fun to root for these teams in the tournament. When was the last time you heard about Denmark except in maybe a movie about World War II resistance groups? Well, on Saturday, they’re taking on the powerhouse of ... Peru? OK, so not exactly David and Goliath. But a David and David welterweight battle would be fun to watch too.
In years past, I’ve also cheered for North Korea, not because I necessarily want them to do well but because I worried what would happen to the players if they went home after a poor showing. Having heard stories of what happened when the Iraqi Olympic team did poorly when run by the Husseins, I can only imagine what North Korean players faced after returning home.
Same with the Costa Rica vs. Serbia match we’ve got coming Sunday. I can’t imagine those two countries have much animosity between them, but when else would they compete?
Of course, who to cheer for isn’t always so easy to tell. The games open with Russia against Saudi Arabia. Now, Russia has been America’s foil since World War II. Also, they’re only 1-1 in world wars, but who’s counting? (Me.)
Saudi Arabia is our ally, but they’re like the guy in your group of friends whose a jerk to servers but also always picks up the check, so you keep him around but don’t really like it. In an ideal world, both teams would lose this match, but that’s not how sport works. Although, it is soccer, so there could be a 0-0 tie.
Of course, there’s rarely a Cinderella story in the World Cup. Serbia isn’t going to win the whole thing on a great run. Costa Rica isn’t going to knock off France. Like the NFL, it seems like its always the same teams vying for the ultimate title. That’s why this tournament is more fun in the early rounds.
So get your popcorn out and your atlas and watch those tiny countries vie for international relevance for a few weeks. And, if you see a country that seems like a particularly bad place to live, cheer that team on.
Hot Dog contest
I want to make a quick thank-you to everyone that came out for the Grundy Brown Bag Friday hot dog-eating contest Friday. The rain forced us indoors, but there still were a lot of people there. I was on the stage, so I couldn’t get a good count, but I don’t think saying a few dozen people in the audience is all that far-fetched.
Hot dogs are serious business, but so is the work those groups do. Everyone there works hard to make this community a better place.