How to Choose Between Slovakia and Cameroon

A rare interlude in which I try to write about  soccer’s version of the World Baseball Classic:

A great deal has been written about what the international game of football – soccer — can tell us about global politics, human nature, and the deepest darkest corners of our very souls. However, I am concerned that not enough of the opposite has been written. How can global politics, human nature, and most importantly, our own irrational prejudices, affect the way we watch the World Cup? To this end, I have attempted to devise a tiered system that explains how a person’s – namely me—rooting interests in this great tournament come about. What follows are the results of my noble experiment:

  1. The Home Country Goes First
    1. In the grand, jingoistic, tradition of international sporting tournaments, this goes without saying.
  2. Space for the Random Affections
    1. Each of us has personal connections to countries besides our own. There are only 32 countries in the World Cup, so there most people shouldn’t have more than 2 or 3 of these.
    2. For me, these are Mexico (I was born and raised in Los Angeles, which is practically Mexico), and Spain (I studied abroad there and made great friends.
  3. Initial Regional Bias
    1. Different people are drawn to different parts of the world – perhaps because of family history, travel experience, musical or other cultural interest, or just sheer randomness.
    2. I personally apply a Monroe Doctrine approach to my Initial Regional Bias: Central and South American teams are preferable to other parts of the world, especially Europe.
    3. Besides the aforementioned US and Mexico, there are 6 teams left from the Americas. How do I rank them? By a micro version of the categories I will lay out below.
  4. Underdogs and Storylines
    1. As sports fans, we are all caught up in the images of unexpected heroism, of nostalgia, of “transcendent” moments. Basically, we seek magic. This category appeals to that very soft underbelly of the heart.
      1. i.     As such, we are inclined to support the host nation (barring any massive or recent socio-political sins they’ve committed), especially if they are not a traditional powerhouse.
        1. As an extension of that, this year, we support all African countries due to the warm-and-fuzziness of the fact that this is the first World Cup to be hosted on African soil, and that an African country has never won a World Cup before.
  5. Political Sympathy Effect

    My rankings

    1. International competition does not occur in a vacuum, or removed from politics and other global happenings. As much as some columnist and commentators wish that sporting events were “above” regular human events, they are not. Hence this category.
    2. We are naturally inclined to sympathize for countries where political turmoil or natural disaster has caused a great deal of pain to the general populace. Teams from these countries take on an identity similar to this past year’s New Orleans Saints – we find ourselves cheering purely out of sympathy, out of the strange notion that they deserve some kind of reward for their troubles.
    3. This category very frequently overlaps with the Underdogs and Storylines category – in fact, the two are inextricably linked. Many of the best international soccer storylines stem directly from the events of global politics.
    4. For me, Greece falls into this category because I believe its good citizens have been excessively derided by larger European cohorts (namely you, France and Germany).
  6. The Bleh Countries
    1. Some countries you just don’t care about. Like Switzerland.
  7. Application of Disdain
    1. One has every right to hate certain nations or teams – hatred being an undeniable force in the human experience.  These hatreds can be based on history, athletic events, or really anything else. There need be no logic.
    2. For example, an Irishman watching this year’s World Cup would have two immediately logical places to apply disdain: England and France. England for its centuries of oppression and abuse, and France for the appalling hand of Satan goal that destroyed Ireland’s chances at qualification and went un-mended by FIFA.
    3. I, however, don’t hate France or England. This totally coincidentally Jewish writer applies his disdain toward Germany (because I don’t like Angela Merkl’s economic policy, obviously), and North Korea because I feel like their success would vindicate an awful regime.

So there are the 7 tiers. It is an imperfect system no doubt, but in the end I think it does a fair job of explains my gut instincts, subtle biases, and irrational preferences. It does indeed turn out that my rooting interests in the World Cup are a pretty spot-on reflection of my broader world view. No surprise for somebody who is more into foreign policy than he is global football.

So I challenge you: think about why you are cheering and booing the way you are this World Cup. What is the logic to it? How do your mind, your guts, your very soul, sort these 32 nations?

9 Responses to “How to Choose Between Slovakia and Cameroon”

  • I know this is a baseball blog, but soccer’s version of the World Baseball Classic? I surely hope that is tongue firmly in cheek.

  • what is soccer?

  • You neglected to mention how awesome the Australian nickname is. Being called the Socceroos surely pushes them up a tier or 2.

  • Ditto the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon.

    I start, and usually end, at your Tier 4. Not the indentations, just whatever storyline catches my ear. In Euro 2008, for instance, it was Turkey and the overtime thing. This is at worst shameless bandwagon-hopping; at best, appreciation of a storyline but little enduring connection to the team, see in particular my ability to totally not care that Hull City got relegated /this/ season.

    In this case, the quirkiest and least likely underdog has to be North Korea. I wouldn’t say that I’m going so far as to follow the games (the scheduling of #2 didn’t help, I did watch #1), but throw in the Kim Myong-Won situation alongside everything else and they’re too amusing not to be amused by, politics not withstanding.

    The one tier that has mattered in the past for me but isn’t on the list is inadvertently finding yourself in Little *Other Country* in *Not Your City*, *Your Country* on the day that *Other Country* is competing in the World Cup final. (Italy, Boston, USA, 2006). I do not think this will influence things this time around, however, seeing as how Norway failed to qualify…

  • Adam, nicknames fall under tier 4, Underdogs and Storylines.

    Ember, did the Little Italians of Boston go crazy during the 2006 final? I can only imagine. Also, how did that impact your rooting interest. Were you for or against the Italians because of your location?

    I can only imagine that Boston Sports Fan x Italian Soccer Fan = Some kind of awful Bill Simmons meets Silvio Berlusconi type creature.

  • This is why the World Cup captures the audience of so many people who are not actual fans of the sport — there are truly compelling storylines underlying teams and matchups.

    But this post also exemplifies how far ‘the beautiful game’ has to go in the US, for not one tier up there valued the quality of the team in their play. For most sports that I do not follow, I just want to see good competition and exciting games, the storylines be damned.

    I am looking forward to the Japan v. Denmark game not because I am a real fan of either team, but the Japanese put on a plucky performance against the Netherlands, a team I follow based on the way they play, and this game is do-or-die — the winner goes through, the loser goes home.

  • The Little Italians were camped out in front of, not only every restaurant with a TV, but also big-screen TVs set up presumably just for that purpose. After Italy won, there was just a mob of celebrating people in the streets. It was a when-in-Rome thing, I guess, sort of how I’ll root for the home team on vacation at baseball stadiums where I don’t care about either team.

  • I find it difficult to care enough about soccer to rank these teams, but you raised an interesting question which piqued my curiosity and now I feel the need so here goes…

    First, while national loayalty normally is king in these kinds of things I find rooting for the US in soccer kind of incongruous. However, I guess I can’t argue, national loyalty does come first here.

    I agree with your second catergory as well (for me it’s Germany, Italy, and Spain. Germany and Italy because while I was in Munich they played Milan and it was so close to the last world cup that it seemed almost like a re-match of last world cup final, and it was one of only a handful of times I’ve actually enjoyed watching soccer. Spain just because I liked it there so much).

    For me the next category would be countries where I have family or friends: Switzerland, Japan, England, Mexico (incidentally Germany and Italy would be here if they hadn’t already been in category 2 so I could have combined these categories).

    My fourth category would be political sympathy (Where I’d choose Serbia, Greece, and South Korea)

    The fifth category for me would be your third (regional bias), which for me would be: Austrailia, New Zeland, Portugal, Denmark, Netherlands, Slovenia, Slovakia, France

    Then I suppose I’m with you again on the sixth category (mine would be Honduras, Uruguay, Argentina, Chile, Brazil, South Africa, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Cameroon, Nigeria, Algeria)

    And I’ll agree with category seven as well (S. Korea)

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