WATCHING the World Cup for the past several weeks has been both exhilarating and fun. In football-mad Saudi Arabia that was to be expected, unlike in basketball-mad Philippines where this tournament has caused hardly a ripple of excitement.
Many people have asked me if I’m a regular football fan, and I invariably reply that, “No I not. I only watch football during the World Cup.” I’m sure I’m not alone in this quadrennial obsession, with many more people like me yawning at soccer during other times but loving it during the World Cup. But hey, at least we get into it.
The World Cup brings out sometimes irrational reasons for why a person roots for a particular team. Some have told me they like France because Zinedine Zidane is of Arab origin and is Muslim. Others, both female and male, like a team because of their hunky-looking players. The Italian team certainly fits into the “hunks” category as did the Australians and the Argentines. I had been rooting for Brazil because I lived in Brazil for seven years while growing up, and my parents still live there. My mother, who is definitely not a football fan, World Cup or no World Cup, especially dislikes it because every time Brazil wins a game, the guys in our Brasilia neighborhood set off firecrackers which in turn make all of the local dogs bark like mad. You can just imagine the noise!
Many Indians in our office refused to support England, their former colonial masters, something we Saudis do not have to worry about. I rooted for England, for Joe Cole, Wayne Rooney and Peter Crouch. Unluckily for them they lost to the hyped-up and ultra-aggressive Portuguese, who thankfully lost on Wednesday night to France’s first half penalty shot by Zidane in one of the most boring World Cup matches I have ever seen.
Luis Felipe Scolari, the infamous Brazilian coach of the Portuguese and one of the most highly paid coaches in Europe (25 million pounds this past year alone), looked furious at Portugal’s loss Wednesday night. The bad boy of the World Cup, he always seemed to be cheering his boys on from the sides, even when they elbowed opponents in the eye and raked up a record number of yellow and red cards for their shenanigans in their game with Holland.
Which brings me to the quality of refereeing during this Cup. The first half of the tournament had many dubious calls by referees, which because of FIFA rules still don’t have access to viewing video replays of contentious shots. This led to some unfair calls, with free kicks given when none should have been given. Many of these officials were sent home by FIFA after the first round of the Cup, and the judging improved afterwards.
The expulsion of Rooney from England’s last match, when he got a red card for kicking a Portuguese player in the scrotum, is an example of subjective refereeing. I think it was unfair and uncalled for. Rooney is still appealing this decision, with FIFA yet to give a response.
What was so funny to watch during this World Cup were the shifting loyalties of viewers as their first-choice teams got knocked out of the tournament. I myself was guilty of doing that, shifting from being a rabid Brazil fan when they played France, and then shifting to supporting the French when they played against Portugal. Some may call this opportunism, but I think it points to a healthier attitude of appreciating the talent of individual players and teams, no matter where they and I are from originally.
Football has become so international with Brazilian and English players playing for Spanish teams like Real Madrid and Barcelona, and French players playing on English teams such as Arsenal and Chelsea, that it was fun to watch players who are teammates outside this tournament, forced to face each other on the pitch in Germany. But it was equally nice to see friends reach out to each other in times of pain. The sight of France’s Thierry Henry comforting and hugging an obviously distraught Ronaldinho after Brazil’s defeat by France, was touching and reminded me of what this World Cup is all about.
For those of you who get all riled up and upset over their favorite team’s loss, I say get a life and enjoy the moment. Football is about fun, experience and technique. It’s also about luck, which means sometimes you lose, sometimes you win. Portugal’s virtual bloodlust to win was off-putting. I’d much rather support France or Brazil, who exhibited poise, calm, experience and, above all, dignity.