World Cup 2014: Andrew in Algeria, Gavin in Brazil

Sunday, June 8, 2014 | Algiers, Algeria (map)

Left to right: Andrew with not enough World Cup fever, Algerians with too much World Cup fever, guest blogger Gavin juuust right.
Someday I will fulfill my lifelong dream of attending the World Cup but, alas, 2014 will not be the lucky year. After watching regularly as a kid, cheering along to every match in open-air bars in Tanzania in 2006, and fist-pumping silently at my desk back in Washington in 2010, I will again be watching the tournament from afar when it starts this week in Brazil.

This year, however, I will get to do so from Algeria, which, as the only Arab country to have qualified for the Cup, bears the hopes not just of a nation but a whole region. I have closely followed the Algerian team's march toward Brazil, and was in the streets of downtown Algiers amid the jubilant crowd of firework- and flag-wielding fans back in November when the Fennecs (a Saharan desert fox, and the team's mascot) clinched their spot with a win over Burkina Faso.

As with all that touches on their national pride, Algerians take their football seriously—and to serious extremes. Two fans were killed in the melee outside the ticketing windows before the final
qualifier; a further ten perished around the country in the post-game celebrations. Swiss police got a taste of what the Algerian fans bring to the game last week when, upon the final whistle of a pre-Cup warmup match against Romania, played in Geneva, giddy Algerian fans swarmed the pitch. (And this after the referee was obliged to pause the game when the crowd threw bottles and lit fireworks onto the pitch.)

Although nobody outside of Algeria expects the Fennecs—who some commentators liken to "a third- or fourth-string French squad"—to advance far in the tournament, watching their matches here in Algiers will offer no shortage of excitement.

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While I won't be at the tournament myself, there is good news: my good friend Gavin, a high school buddy from Baltimore who now lives in Germany, has not only managed to clear his schedule for a three-week Brazilian odyssey, but has also offered to share his experiences by writing a few guest posts here on the blog.

Over the next few weeks, Gavin will be sending back stories from his trip, including dispatches from the matches and reflections on the larger tournament atmosphere. Brazil, an already fascinating country, promises to be especially dynamic during the World Cup; while its people live and breathe the joga bonito, they have been less enthused at the price tag of hosting the tournament. (Many have been asking whether the government might have better spent that $15 billion elsewhere, like on combating persistent poverty, crime, and other social ills. This picture says it all.)

Gavin will be making an ambitious circuit throughout the country, from the beaches to the big cities to the Amazon. He plans to see at least four matches as well as some of the best tourist sites, and will surely meet some characters along the way. I'm excited already to see what he'll share with all of us back home in the next few weeks!

St. Paul's Varsity Soccer, Fall 2002: Gavin and I go way back to the days of Diadora track suits.
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Among the matches Gavin will attend—and that I will be following closely from afar—are Team USA's challenging Group G matchups. America, never known for its soccer prowess or passion, will have an uphill climb in this tournament and, after a controversial last minute lineup decision, it will face it without perennial star Landon Donovan. But steady fans like myself and Gavin are trying to hold faith in the unorthodox and decidedly un-American wisdom of the US team's German-born coach, Jurgen Klinsmann. However improbable, we believe that we will win!

Wherever we are, we'll all be watching our teams closely. Here's to an entertaining few weeks of great football!

Finally, here's a few fun links for those looking to get into the World Cup spirit:

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