|Left to right: Andrew with not enough World Cup fever, Algerians with too much World Cup fever, guest blogger Gavin juuust right.|
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.
* * *
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.|
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:
- Still not excited yet? This ESPN World Cup commercial can help fix that.
- It's certainly no "Waka Waka" (which I still have stuck in my head from 2006), but here is the 2014 Cup's lame official song, for the few who care, or the fewer who are Pitbull fans.
- Check out these slick posters made by Brazilian graphic artist Cristiano Siqueira for each of the 32 teams in this year's Cup.
- As he himself admits, Stephen Hawking is no Paul the Octopus, but his scientific predictions for the Cup are more informative and also rather entertaining.
- On the more practical side, here is a decent (though America-centric) guide with info on what to look for in this year's tournament.
- Have a friend who cares too much about the World Cup? Just remind him/her that as much fun as the tournament may be, best not to forget that it's all rigged!