I'm writing this blog entry while I have the World Cup on television in the background. Currently The Netherlands are beating Serbia & Montenegro. At a 25th wedding anniversary for Alana's dad and stepmom yesterday I discovered that few of her family even knew that the World Cup was on, or that the U.S. is ranked 5th in the world.
I was out of work during the 2002 World Cup, so I was able to see a lot of it live. In 1998 I gave the VCR a workout. I think I'll have to do that this year, too. I'd like to follow Team USA (in spite of their rating, they are a perennial underdog because of professional soccer's lack of presence in this country). Scotland didn't make it to the Cup (and let's not even talk about Canada...), so team USA is my team of choice. As a Scot, I can't support England. I just can't.
I was talking to my Mum on the phone yesterday. She told me that Ontario was getting World Cup fever. Canadians follow professional soccer like Americans: they don't, unless they have a strong ethnic identity to a home country. The difference in Canada and the US is that Canadian immigrants don't have the same push to assimilate. As we were taught in school, the US is a cultural melting pot and Canada is a cultural mosaic. This is most visible during the World Cup. Every ethnic neighbourhood in Toronto is flying the flags of their native countries. Mum lives in Oshawa, a city of about 150,000 some 30 miles east of Toronto. It's not usually known for its ethnic diversity, but she's seen a ton of red-cross-on-a-white-background flags in recent days.
The red cross on a field of white is the flag of England. The Union Jack is not flown for England during the World Cup. The Union Jack is the flag of the United Kingdom of Great Britain. Since Britain consist of England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland — all of which have their own teams, though England is the only one in the World Cup — it is improper for England to fly the Union Jack during the games.
Scots are having a hard time deciding who to cheer on right now. Many don't want to root for England, also known as the Auld Enemie. It would be like Boston Red Sox fans having to decide to cheer for the New York Yankees or, oh, a Japanese team. Some Scots are cheering for England because it's a British team. Others are cheering for other nations, particularly smaller, underdog countries. A lot of Scots are cheering for Trinidad and Tobago because of a single player: the fortunately named Jason Scotland, who happens to play for the St. Johnstone Football Club in the city of Perth, Scotland. Replicas of his jersey, with his last name on the back, have sold out in soccer stores throughout Scotland.
I find it weird living in Monroe, Louisiana during the World Cup. I know there are people of different ethnic origins around here, but I just don't see them flying flags in support of their home country. Mexico is in the World Cup, but I don't see cars driving down the road with Mexican flags hanging out. Perhaps they are scared people think they are protesting immigration laws.
Meanwhile in Toronto I'm sure there are plenty of Italian, Portuguese, Brazilian, and English flags flying. In fact, I'm sure there's an ethnic neighbourhood for pretty much every nation in the World Cup. Personally, I'm glad I'm not there right now. There are large Italian and Brazilian areas of Toronto. I have a major hate-on for Italy's and Brazil's soccer teams dating back to the 1994 World Cup. They met in the final. It was one of the most boring games I'd ever seen. It was obvious that instead of trying to win, both teams were desperately trying not to lose. They played to a scoreless draw, and Brazil won the game in a shootout, scoring three penalty shots to two. Dad and I were disgusted with the game. Ever since, I've been sworn enemies of both teams (even though I'm 1/8th Italian). I even cheered on France in 1998, who defeated Brazil 3 to 2 in a very enjoyable game.
Here's a tip for first time soccer viewers: if you plan to watch the final, you should really plan to watch the consolation game between the third and fourth place teams. That's usually a much more enjoyable game, as neither team has the pressure of being in the final.
I miss my Dad during World Cup time. He was a huge soccer fan. He followed particular teams when he was younger, but during the World Cup he was simply a fan of the game. He would watch as many games as he could, taping what he thought were the best for later viewing. Dad was very glad to see the US hold the World Cup in 1994. He figured it would be the impetus for greater recognition of soccer in the only two countries in the world where it isn't the number one sport: Canada and the US. However, he thought that much of the benefit was diluted because of the boring Brazil-Italy final. I have fond memories of the two of us, and my brother Ian, seeing Toronto Blizzard games when the NASL (North American Soccer League) was functioning. Dad had soccer in his blood. He played as a child. He messed up his feet playing the game in army boots when he did his national service in the Highland Light Infantry in the late 50s. He had two uncles who played soccer professionally, one of which was a cap for Scotland (meaning he played on the national team). Dad died of cancer in November, 1998. Though he was sick, he did manage to see the World Cup that year. I really miss him this time of year...
The game I was watching is over. I won't say who won, just in case you have the game on tape. That was the first World Cup game I've seen this time around, but it won't be the last. I'm looking forward to following Team USA. They've come a long way since 1994, when they were matched against Brazil at the end of the first round, and were knocked out of the field of 16 by Brazil (though Brazil only scored a single goal). In 1998 the US didn't get out of the first round, but they made it to the quarter finals in 2002. This time they are in Group E, playing against Italy, Ghana, and the Czech Republic. The top two finishers of each of the eight groups are seeded in a group of 16, with the winner of each pairing advancing to the next round. The Czech Republic is ranked 2nd in the world. Italy is 12th. Ghana is 50th, but that doesn't mean they can be taken lightly. Each team only plays three games in the first round; no team can afford to be complacent against any opponent.
In case you want to know who is winning, this site at Yahoo has a list of all teams and the results: http://fifaworldcup.yahoo.com/06/en/w/team/index.html
I haven't been able to watch any hockey games (the Stanley Cup playoffs have only been playing on the Outdoor Life Network, and we don't get that with our cable company), and they simply don't play Canadian Football League games down here, but ESPN2 is running World Cup games. I can finally get my "obscure sport" fix... even though this "obscure sport" is the most popular, by far, in the world.
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