Whom will Cruyff be supporting on Sunday? The question arose during some Twitter chat I had this morning with Brian Phillips of Run of Play. In a piece on Slate, Brian makes a compelling argument for rooting against Holland. One, Spain plays if not with the creative, hypnotic elegance of Cruyff’s 1970s Dutch teams, then at least with something that can be perceived as stylish (if you like what the Guardian’s Fiver today described as “hypnotic death-by-a-thousand-cuts style of tiki-strangulation”).
I’ll take Howard’s bait. I think it is OK to both admire and root for Germany, and I’ve found myself doing both. Yes, my father was the first mate on U.S. Merchant Marine ships running supplies to Normandy, and the Nazis did occupy his native Greece. But that was quite some time ago. In my well-postwar lifetime, personal bias against Germany has involved disdain for the country’s efficient, machine-like, insert-backhandedly-complimentary-adjective-here character (and caricature), and with their soccer.
On the way home from Johannesburg, I picked up a copy of the Mail & Guardian, which calls itself “Africa’s Best Read.” Here’s the headline on the lead story that day: “Danny Jordaan’s brother cashes in on 2010.” The newspaper reported that a company controlled by Andrew Jordaan, brother of the head of the local organizing committee, is being paid around $15,000 a month by the World Cup’s official “hospitality-services” provider to serve as a “liaison” in one of the host cities. He also happened to own a share of a consortium that built one of the World Cup stadiums.
I was en route home from South Africa yesterday—and still haven’t made it to D.C.; I’m sipping a Jamba Juice and typing in the lovely JetBlue terminal at JFK—so I still haven’t seen all 120 minutes of USA-Ghana. The last 30, however, I did catch during a short layover in Dubai. I was drained, the U.S. seemed drained. Maybe it was sitting in a quiet airport lounge, listening to play by play in Arabic, with just a couple of American fans in a small group around a flat screen.
PRETORIA, South Africa -- The guy standing near me was crying, too. It was my new best friend, Ian Ainslie of the fan group American Outlaws, and after the fourth Foer brother -- tell me that Landon and this blog’s editor aren’t separated at birth -- scored the most important goal in American soccer history (later, Paul Caligiuri), tears were streaming down his face. Streaming, I tell you.
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- In the third row of the upper deck at Ellis Park Stadium -- site of the post-apartheid, racially unifying World Cup rugby game in Invictus (and in life); yesterday I saw the jersey Nelson Mandela wore that day on display at the fabulous Apartheid Museum here -- we were already in a state of high freak-out when it looked and sounded as if the U.S. had scored the go-ahead goal against Slovenia. That delicious, sudden eruption that happens best at sporting events happened. A deafening roar (and not of you-know-whats). A tasty shower of beer.
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- I watched Brazil’s 2-1 win over North Korea in a bar in the hipsterish neighborhood of Melville, where my brother, nephew and I are renting a small house for two weeks. Brazil shirts abounded, as they always do. The run a distant second to South Africa’s ubiquitous shirt, but the two kits combined make yellow the dominant street color of this World Cup. I like Brazil for all of the usual reasons -- grace, possession, elan, the inevitable jaw-dropping ball-on-a-string move or physics-defying shot.
RUSTENBURG, South Africa -- “Well done,” the middle-aged England fan said to me outside Royal Bafokeng Stadium last night after his country’s 1-1 draw against the United States. The civility was less rare than you might imagine. Sure, there was the drunken Brit in the eternal shuttle-bus queue in the red-clay parking lot shouting -- and if you read my first post, you know it brought a smile to my face -- “You’re shit and you know you are!” at a harmless group of flag-clad Americans.
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates— At JFK, waiting to board the Emirates flight to Dubai that the Times Square bomber guy was yanked from trying to flee the country, I sit next to a guy from San Diego wearing a blue USA jersey with the excellent Joe Gaetjens 1950 throwback sash. My unofficial lounge tally: more Mexico shirts (plus two sombreros) than American ones. Then there’s the dude with a rooster mohawk in an Argentina shirt with a “10” shaved above his left temple and—this is the beautiful part—a mirror image “01” above his right.