Peter Goldstein is a professor at Juniata College in Pennsylvania in the USA. He has been
World Cup crazy since 1966. He will share his views about the past, present and future of
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Who to Support
The current estimate is that nearly one billion people will watch the 2006 World Cup. Undoubtedly you will be among them. The odds are you’ll have watched the World Cup before, and so will have a pretty good idea what to expect. For first-timers, though, the tournament can be pretty confusing, what with a Group of Death, match result vs. goal difference, 32 different national teams all coached by Dutchmen, and a Swede named Ibrahimovic. So for World Cup newbies, here is a primer on Who To Support.
- Your National Team. This is pretty straightforward, unless you’re from Spain, in which case either 1) you don’t consider yourself part of Spain in the first place, or 2) you’re fed up with your team and you know they’re going to crash out horribly so you might as well support someone else and have done with it. Supporting your national team can also be difficult if you live in the USA, because the networks will be televising the National Jump Rope Competition instead of the World Cup.
- Brazil. Lots of people support Brazil, so why not you? If you don’t know which one is Brazil, just look for the team winning the most games, scoring the most goals, and having the most fun. They will be in yellow shirts, but don’t confuse them with Australia, who will also be in yellow shirts. Here’s how to tell: Brazil will have a player named Ronaldinho, and Australia will not--although they may have a player named Ronald Dinjovic. (Note: you can disregard this paragraph if you are from Argentina.)
- The Team That Plays the Most Beautiful Football. See 2).
- Any Team Playing The Team You Hate The Most. “The enemy of my enemy is my friend,” as the saying goes, and unless you are Swiss, it’s easy to figure out the prime enemy. For example, if you’re from the Netherlands, it’s Germany; if South Korea, it’s Japan; if Italy, it’s the referees. Nevertheless, beware of relying too much on hatred to determine who you support. Hatred is a bad thing, and the World Cup is designed to promote world peace--hence FIFA’s insistence on operating as a strictly non-profit corporation.
- Underdogs. This is always rewarding, because although your team won’t win much, you’ll be admired for your devotion. Trinidad & Tobago are the biggest underdogs, and since like everyone else they’re coached by a Dutchman, you know they’ll play intelligent football. Saudi Arabia is a good choice too, because even if they lose their opener 0:7, they’ll have done better than last time. The African teams are always good options here, but beware: Pelé, the greatest player and most reliable predictor in the history of football, has said that an African team will win the World Cup someday, so you may inadvertently find yourself supporting a favorite instead of an underdog. If still in doubt, go with the plucky little Germans, who are reported to be pessimistic about their chances.
- The Team With The Best-Looking Kit. This is largely a matter of taste. In the past the choice was easy, because you just had to pick your favorite colors. Now, in their never-ending quest for bold artistic expression, the designers have added swirls, patches, horizontal bars, vertical bars, diagonal bars, chevrons, De Kooning brushstrokes, asymmetrical colorfields, and in the case of Ukraine and Serbia & Montenegro, a volley of spears converging lethally at the players’ hearts. The simplest option: close your eyes and choose whichever design produces the least alarming afterimage.
- The Team That Dives The Least. This may be hard to measure, although you can start by eliminating any team that plays in light blue and white vertical stripes, or has players named Drogba, Nedved, or Robben. Latin American teams are risky, because they dive a lot as an expression of their glorious cultural identity. You might try Asian or African teams, but since they’re likely to be behind most of the time, they’ll use whatever tactics give them a chance. Northern European teams are said to be more sportsmanlike than others, but often find themselves completely blamelessly diving when forced to confront those nasty cheaters from the south. Come to think of it, your safest option is to watch films of 1970--which as a bonus will take care of number 6) as well.
- The Team With The Best Fans. Every team brings along thousands of distinctively-dressed fans, and you can expect to see lots of exciting camera shots. Which team has the best fans? Some say England, whether they’re singing in unison in the stadium or merrily greeting police in the streets. Some say Brazil, because they dance all the time and rarely wear clothes. This is a very personal decision, so we have no direct advice, but to aid your choice, listen to the famous songs: The Great Escape (England), the Grand March from “Aida” (Netherlands), Cielito Lindo (Mexico), Waltzing Matilda (Australia), and Merde à Raymond Domenech (France).
- The Team With The Best Nickname. Team nicknames always add color to football. For example, Germany calls their team the Mannschaft, meaning “team,” Brazil calls theirs the Seleção, meaning “team,” and Iran calls theirs Team Melli, meaning “national team.” Some of the best nicknames involve colors: Mexico calls their team el Tri, short for Tricolor, and Ecuador calls theirs la Tri, short for Tricolor. Costa Rica, ever inventive, has two nicknames: la Selección, meaning “team,” and la Tricolor, meaning Tricolor. The best nicknames of all are in Africa, where you can find teams called Scorpions, Squirrels, Crocodiles, and Zebras. Personally, I recommend Angola, known as the Palancas Negras, which is Portuguese for “black palancas.”
- The Team Most Frequently Shafted By The Referees. As a football fan, you know all too well what it’s like to be frustrated by the men with the whistles. So your sympathy will naturally be with the unluckiest team in this regard. Since it will be tough to keep track of all the referees’ mistakes, your best bet is to read the world’s most trusted publication on this matter, La Gazzetta dello Sport. They will be sure to give you a fair accounting.
- Scotland. Everyone loves the Scots. They have a long and wonderful history, marvelous fans, and a never-say-die spirit. But, incredibly, they’ve never made it to the second round of the World Cup. So join the rest of the world in rooting them on. Maybe this will be their year!
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