World Cup: Who's Your Team? And Your Nemesis?

FREIBURG IM BREISGAU, GERMANY - MAY 26: Robin van Persie of the Netherlands celebrates his team's first goal during the international friendly match between the Netherlands and Mexico at the Badenova stadium on May 26, 2010 in Freiburg im Breisgau, Germany. (Photo by Alex Grimm/Bongarts/Getty Images)

The obvious answer for most people who read this would be that they support the US, I'd imagine. But the nature of being a soccer fan in the US for any length of time has resulted in most people having at least one other team - whether because you needed someone to cheer on when the US got eliminated from a tournament, because of a family connection, or some other completely random factor. And just as we must have someone to support, we must have someone to cheer against... or swear, or throw things at the screen, or generally act like a shrieking rabid ape about.

For me, the support answer goes on at length - a fact which will come as no surprise to anyone who's been around this blog for any time at all. It's a list comprised of three countries and a category, which I've probably outlined in comments elsewhere.

In rank order:

  1. Scotland. This really shouldn't come as any surprise. Even though I've spent almost my entire life outside of Scotland, and indeed most of it in the US, Scotland is the first on the list. It's really a curse, sort of like being a Cal football fan: Scotland were really competitive back in the day, but aside from the occasional cyclical improvements in form (last seen in the 80s for Scotland, if we're honest), it's just unrelentingly bad. Scotland opened the 1998 World Cup against Brazil, for instance, and promptly spotted them an own goal... because those plucky little Brazilians needed the help. This lament could go on for many many thousands of words, but AAAAAAARGH I DON'T WANT TO TALK ABOUT IT I'VE CHANGED MY MIND OKAY?
  2. Holland. Ah, that's better. I lived in Holland as a kid, and have very fond memories of the whole country and their enthusiastic support of Het Oraanje. There's a book about the rise of Total Football in the late 1960s and early 1970s by David Winner called "Brilliant Orange: The Neurotic Genius of Dutch Soccer," and that more or less encapsulates why I like Holland beyond nostalgia... They play a better brand of soccer there, and their total inability to agree on anything more or less guarantees that they are as likely to produce the 4 red card foul-fest against Portugal in 2006 - one of the dirtiest games I've ever seen - as they are the fastest goal in a World Cup final or my favorite Dennis Bergkamp goal ever (suck it Argies!), complete with a Dutch radio announcer doing the commentary equivalent of going ham.
  3. USA! USA! USA! This is less obvious for me. Much as I enjoy living in this fine country and having a written constitution, I find it very difficult to cheer for the US in competitions like the Olympics because American athletes are generally winning all manner of medals, and it seems like carpetbagging of the worst kind to get behind that... but pick something that the US isn't good at, like cross country skiing, or... I don't know, soccer, and I'm willing to get behind them on that. Plus, cheering for the US in soccer has many many benefits for irritating people, whether it's Americans who view the game as yet another fifth column of Bolshevism infecting the sturdy youth of the suburbs, or foreigners who can't make up their mind whether they are excited that they've got something sneerworthy to look down on, or worried that the US might actually beat them. Really, you can't get much more out of supporting a team.
  4. Former colonies. As a general rule of thumb, I support any former colony playing their former oppresor, like Senegal beating France in the 2002 World Cup or Angola not faring quite so well against Portugal in the 2006 World Cup. Obviously, there's not quite the same bien pensant benefit of supporting the US against England next weekend, since it's not like you'd call the US downtrodden... but you get the general idea.

As for the question of nemeses...

Well, the World Cup is usually when you will find my wife complaining the most about residual British xenophobia because of the speed with which I start hurling stereotype-based abuse at the screen. Most of this abuse probably goes against SBN policy, so I'll confine myself to admitting that I dislike a lot of teams, and that these are a few of the usual suspects in no particular order:

  • Germany. Could they be any more dull? And yet keep winning and winning and winning? All the flair of a wet Sunday in Bochum with the occasional egregious cheating, like Bernd Holzenbein taking a dive against Holland in 1974, or pretty much any elimination round match in 2006. I will freely admit that I judge their players on how much they look like they should be wearing a helmet while poking their head out of the hatch of a Tiger tank; on those grounds Bastian Schweinsteiger is a true German player. (And equally, Gerald Asamoah could never really be German for reasons that have nothing to do with German challenges in absorbing immigrants.)
  • France. A late addition, thanks to Thierry Henry channeling Kobe Bryant for this goal against Ireland. Mind you with Domenech as manager they really don't need any ill will to help them on their way out. Nice job squandering all the good will from 1998 and 2000, you useless Gallic twits.
  • Greece. What you'd get if you took Germany and removed the flair. And the euro.

  • Argentina. This is a tricky one. I used to loath them for their egregious cheating even when they were clearly better than the opposition - the classic example of course is Maradona's Hand of God "goal" against England in 1986 when he was capable moments later of making a mockery of them with as complete an individually brilliant goal as you'll see - as well as the less-than-subtle intimidation exercised on their road to a feel-good home World Cup final win at home in 1978, the vile military junta doing their best to ensure a domestic propaganda coup. But now they have the combination of some great players including the incomparable Leo Messi plus the one-man-cloud-of-managerial-mayhem known as Maradona. What the hell am I supposed to do now?
  • England. Rather than go on at some length about how it's been decades of delusion about their World Cup chances, caused by huffing the fumes of 1966, or about their infernal smugness from being demonstrably better than Scotland, I shall just say that I'm attempting to embrace passionate indifference.

So what's your team? And who do you particularly dislike?

(This post written to the mellow sounds of The Winter of Mixed Drinks by Frightened Rabbit and portions of Yours Truly Angry Mob by Kaiser Chiefs.)

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