Given how my family background is half-Ukrainian and half-Irish, the final stage of UEFA's World Cup qualifying matches were pretty dang frustrating for me. The Irish got hosed by the already-legendary non-call(s) from the officials and the Ukes lost to Greece. Greece! Are you serious? Is this Euro 2004? Who the hell loses to Greece? My Greek friend Joanne now has bragging rights for the next several years, which may force me to retaliate by going to Athens and stealing the Parthenon. That's right, stealing it. Like Carmen Sandiego.
So with both of my ancestral countries out of the running and Soccer Canada continuing to be a living joke, I find myself needing a dance partner for the 2010 World Cup. I really got an added kick out of supporting Ukraine back in 2006, when Andriy "Sheva" Shevchenko basically single-handedly carried Ukraine to the quarter-finals. The World Cup is great as it is, but it adds an extra layer of intrigue when you're actually invested in one of the participating nations. It also helped that 2006 was my first summer living in Toronto, where I watched the matches at my neighbourhood corner pub with a rotating cast of patrons from the various nations. The atmosphere was fantastic. I lived near Koreatown and was twice woken up by a multitude of horns honking to celebrate a South Korea goal.
The question is, then, of the 32 teams in this year's World Cup, which should earn my support? Keep in mind that actual soccer ability will have next to nothing to do with the choice. Let's break it down, first with the teams that didn't make the cut.
* North Korea
Well, duh. What a wonderful bit of karmic justice that these clowns were slotted into the Group of Death; facing Brazil, Portugal and Ivory Coast, Kim Jong-Il's crew are staring 0-3 and possibly an 0-10 goal differential right in the face. And by karmic justice, I mean 'the USA slipped FIFA a bit of cash under the table.' That also might explain Group C.
Meh. I really have no opinion on the Chilean team one way of the other. You could say my attitude towards them is rather....frosty.
Forget, they just won it last time. Spread the wealth, Italy.
After that Ireland fiasco? Shyeah right. Fun fact: apparently in the staging rehearsal for the World Cup group selection last Friday, Charlize Theron jokingly yelled out 'Ireland!' when she drew France's name from the bowl. Oh, Charlize --- funny, talented, beautiful and willing to play a Mr. F on national television. *mimes 'call me' hand motion*
Rooting for Argentina would seem like I was endorsing Diego Maradona's hiring. Maradona has already taken a firm place somewhere between Wayne Gretzky and Isiah Thomas on the list of all-time great players who turned into all-time lousy coaches.
As you might notice, I've included some of the soccer world's biggest winners on this list of teams I won't root for. You can't just naturally adopt one of these titans as your new favourite team. That would be bandwagon-jumping of the highest order. Ze Germans have three World Cups already, they don't need my support.
I had a whole paragraph written citing that old Cheers bit when Coach is trying to teach Sam geography by associating every country with a little song to the tune of 'When The Saints Go Marching In.' "Albania/Albania/You border on the Adriatic/Your land is mostly mountainous/And your chief export is chrome." Unfortunately, then I realized that Albania didn't quality for the World Cup --- Algeria did. Uh, yeah. I've got nothing.
* The United States
As a Canadian, I'm legally obligated to not cheer for the USA in anything. I'm pretty sure it's in NAFTA. I got all my USA-fandom out of my system when I was a ten-year-old rooting for Hulk Hogan to beat Iraqi sympathizer Sgt. Slaughter at Wrestlemania VII. Spoiler alert: Hogan won.
Fun fact: the Serbs have only five regulars on their 'most recently capped' roster whose names don't end in 'ic.' I see.
With Spain capturing Euro 2008, Portugal inherits the title of 'most distinguished European soccer nation whose constant failure is always hilarious.' Rooting for them would take away one of my most cherished memories of watching the 2006 Cup at the pub --- a bar-wide chant of 'DIVER DIVER' at Ronaldo. Plus, a buddy of mine hooked up with a Portuguese girl at a party once and was bothered by her for the next two years. How can I reward such a country?
Meh. I feel like I would often confuse them with Slovakia.
See Slovenia's entry, except for this hilarious addendum. I logged onto Slovaki's Wikipedia page to see if I could drum up any interesting facts about the team, and someone edited the opening line to read, "The Slovakia national football team are a truly awful sporting outfit." Clearly there are some bitter Poland/Northern Ireland/Czech fans amidst Wikipedia's editing crew.
I guess you could include them in the group of past champions I won't root for, but though Uruguay has two World Cups to their name, they haven't been anything close to a world footballing power for about 40 years. Well, tough break, Uruguay. U r gone.
THE NOT REALLYS
This whole category is made up of the three teams who I can't really support due to my personal bandwagon-jumping rule, but who I can't help but respect. In other words, I'd easily support any of these three over any of the teams in the previous group, but I'd root against any of these three if they faced anyone in the upcoming group. In Brazil's case, they'd win every tournament if the World Cup was awarded on sheer talent and style. I'd want to watch an intra-squad game between the Brazilians moreso than any other nation. Also, according to this site, I'd be nicknamed 'Polishezo' if I were a Brazilian soccer player. That just sounds cool.
True, they just won Euro 2008, but their World Cup record is so comically choke-filled that they're somewhat of a sentimental favourite in my book. My friend Sarah had the pleasure of actually being in Spain during Euro 2008, and she said the country erupted into such a good-natured party after they won and a World Cup victory would only add onto the celebration. Then, with a Cup under their belts, they can basically become the new France and I can slot them into the No-Chancers group. Sorry, Spain.
As a Maple Leafs fan, surely I have to have a soft spot for the international soccer version of the Leafs. Reveling in their last title back in the mid-60's, always inflating expectations, terrible at shootouts....the similarities are eerie. England even had their own John Ferguson Jr. in Steve McClaren, though at least FIFA rules prevented McClaren from trading Peter Crouch's international rights to the USA for, say, Alexei Lalas in 2007 and signing him to a no-cut cap contract.
With over half the field out, my quest to find a favorite team has reached the knockout stage. Here are my final fifteen options.....
You've got to have the underdog darlings of the 2006 World Cup in the mix. Someone who tells as many terrible jokes as I do (see: the Chile entry) would be a natural fan of a country with such a pun-friendly name. "They're Ghana do it!" "You're Ghana get beat!" "I support Ghana, Rhea Perlman!"
* South Korea
Like I said, I used to live on the outskirts of Toronto's Koreatown. In fact, depending on where I end up living next year, my location might play a huge factor in whatever team I end up supporting. If I'm in the midst of a cultural neighbourhood that has a team in the Cup, I might get swept up in the fever. Or, with my luck, I'll probably end up living in a neighbourhood with a crappy soccer connection, i.e. Toronto's little-known Faroe Islandstown. The only celebratory car-honking I'd have to worry about there would be if the Faroe Islands lost by fewer than ten goals.
* South Africa
Natural to support the host country, plus my folks went on a safari in South Africa last year and had a wonderful time. Question: suppose the scenario in 'District 9' actually happened. Would the Prawns be eligible to be capped for the South African squad? I would guess probably not, and maybe it's for the best, given that they didn't seem particularly physically fit. Too much cat food, I'd reckon.
Uruguay has two World Cup titles, while its partner in Guay marriage has a sorry record at the World Cup. It's time for Paraguay to step up and claim equality amongst the Guays. I'll bet if both Uruguay and Paraguay pooled their resources, they could form a mighty team, but I'm not sure this type of Guay civil union would be allowed. When will people learn?
* Cote d'Ivoire
a.k.a. the Ivory Coast. However you say it, these guys were the darlings at World Cup 2006 and would've made it to the knockout stage if it hadn't been for their being drawn in the Group of Death. I love that this country has two names and they're both bad-ass as hell. If that wasn't enough, their team nickname is 'The Elephants.' I recently had a dream about alien elephants that landed on our planet, so perhaps this was a subconscious message to start rooting for Ivory Coast. That may be the oddest sentence ever written.
I like Hamlet. My name is right there in the country's name. That is all.
Another team who often plays the World Cup with their hands wrapped around their collective neck. It's a shame that Holland never won a World Cup back in their revolutionary 'Total Football' days that took the soccer world by storm, since I'm not sure if they really have the firepower to compete with the big boys in terms of actually winning a championship. While it's fun to tease my Dutch friends when they suddenly jump hard on the Holland bandwagon during every Euro or World Cup tournament, I can't help but wonder if I should be silently rooting for the Oranje as well.
They're known as the Indomitable Lions. Yes, that's right, INDOMITABLE. Also, supporting them would mean I could bust out Bugs Bunny's "whatta maroon" line roughly 75 times per match.
Yeah, let's face it, I'm basically pulling for every African team. It would mean extra-much to these countries to turn in a great performance on the world stage. (Except for Algeria, who I'm omitted solely due to my confusion over Cheers trivia.) Could my admiration for Bono be affecting my World Cup picks? Possibly....after all, I am wearing sunglasses while writing this post and simultaneously coming up with increasingly obtuse rhymes for 'elevation.'
Arguably my favourite country in the world that I haven't actually been to, Australia would be a great choice. They'd also be a popular underdog given that they got screwed out of the last World Cup thanks to a 'penalty' (coughcoughdivecoughcough) awarded to an Italian player in stoppage time.
Arguably my second-favourite country in the world that I haven't actually been to, Switzerland would be a great choice. You know, if I were a more well-traveled man, I might have some actual emotional connections to these countries and might be able to make a more informed choice when picking a World Cup side. That cinches it --- if you all send me generous cash donations, I'll take a trip to the country that I end up supporting for this World Cup. I figure $500 a head should get me there comfortably and allow me a stay in a Westernized hotel that will keep me nice and sequestered from any actual local flavour. It will be like my family vacation to Jamaica when I was 11, and my closest brush with the local cuisine was Burger King.
Hey, I've actually been to Mexico! Stop the presses! It might be odd rooting for one of Canada's CONCACAF rivals, but then again, Canada is so below Mexico's radar that it would be like Pluto feeling strange about cheering for Saturn in the galactic World Cup. Mexico's WC history seems to run in streaks. They made were knocked out in the group stage every year from 1950 to 1966, and are currently on a four-tournament streak of advancing to the second round before being eliminated. I'm going to go out on a limb and say that the Mexicans will go out in round two yet again to even up their streaks, thus dooming them to some type of LOST-esque time loop. Their only hope is if Jared Borgetti goes back to 1977 and detonates a nuclear bomb.
The team is pretty mediocre, but I like Japan as a country. It remains to be seen if they'll take as a fan in the wake of that last joke about detonating a nuclear bomb. Too soon?
* New Zealand
NZ is another country I like, and given that my cousin currently lives there, I really have no excuse not to visit. Then again, she will obviously be rooting for the New Zealanders by proxy, and I don't want to sign my entire family's loyalty away to a country that I have no direct ties to. I mean, I like 'Flight Of The Conchords,' but not to the extent of patterning my life after them. I've seen Mel --- that's a road I'd rather not travel.
I actually have a small connection to Honduras, given that Toronto FC's Amado Guevara is the team captain and I've written a few stories about his quest to lead his country into the World Cup. Given that no other current TFC players are expected to be capped to a World Cup side, Guevara will be the only person in this year's tournament who can say that he knows me. And by knows me, I mean he could vaguely identify me as "that writer who always wears a toque at practice," but still, that counts.
So there they are, my fifteen options for temporary World Cup fandom. Feel free to leave a comment in favour of one team or another, since I'm willing to listen to any and all opinions about who I should be rooting for in June.
Stay tuned for next week's post, where I list 15 women I know and ask your opinion on which one I should date. It should be illuminating!