What’s an American Guy to Do?

fan.jpgAlthough my Plan B (anybody but Brazil) is technically intact, please pardon me if I screw up my face in disgust while I try to choose a side to pull for in the remainder of World Cup 2006. What else is there for an American guy to do when his favorite team is eliminated in group play, all his other alternatives have bitten the dust, and the only remaining choices are Germany, Italy, Portugal and France?

Fortunately, two are relatively easy to eliminate. Italy’s roster is chock full of whiney, flopping phonies who fret more over their pomade and Prada shoes than they do corner kicks and PKs.2407434536.jpg Aussies from Brisbane, to Melbourne, to Perth are still chapped over Fabio Grosso’s Academy Award-winning dive in the box which led to the match-deciding PK against the Socceroos. Many of them have visited my post, “The Italian Way,” and although none have left any comments (there is some grief that cannot be expressed in words), I can nevertheless feel their collective wrath surging through my high-speed internet connection. If I were the Azzurri, I would be checking my six for a short, shirtless wiry guy wearing a funny-looking hat and vest while carrying an oversized Bowie knife. There, now that’s a dive!

1015959945.jpgThe other obvious throwaway is Portugal. It will be some time before the stench of their histrionic second round hack job against The Netherlands lifts from the international soccer scene. Many of the 16 yellows and 4 reds issued in that match came about from phonies such as Figo and Maniche who hit the deck and held their faces in their hands in blatant attempts to draw cards. Pretty boy prima donna Christiano Ronaldo is another fine reason to hate The Selection of the Shields (what kind of nickname is that anyway?). After the Netherlands banged his shins a little and sent him whimpering to the sideline, it took an army of trainers, coaches and psychologists to give him the group hug he apparently needed to keep him from totally losing his manhood in front of a worldwide audience.

And what about that “wink-wink” to his coach Luiz Felipe Scolari after ratting out Manchester United teammate Wayne Rooney for his little crotch stomp dance? No excuses here for Rooney—that cheap shot contributed mightily to England’s cruel and disappointing demise. But for Pete’s sake, Ronaldo, there’s no winking in soccer! Portugal was lucky to play past two arguably superior teams in The Netherlands and England—their good fortune will run dry against Les Bleus.

Speaking of which, it is very tempting to root for the French because of one man—Zinedine Zidane. No, make that The Man. Zidane, who1479081117.jpg came out of international retirement after the French were having difficulty in early qualifying matches, is a consummate midfielder who possesses one of the finest touches in the game and is a veritable maestro at directing the attack and doing the million and a half other little things that must be done well in the middle third in order to win a match. He appears fit as a fiddle at the “ancient” age of 34 and much too young to retire, which he swears he will do for good following the completion of World Cup play. His goal against Spain and assist for the game winner versus Brazil sealed his legacy as one of the finest footballers of his generation. Surely there would be great justice served in such a fine player leading his country to glory to close out his career.

So, what’s the problem? Well, first of all, I really haven’t jumped on the “Freedom Fries” bandwagon. I figure the French have their reasons for distancing themselves from U.S. foreign policy. I may not always agree with them, but they are a sovereign country and when you get right down to it, they have the right to act in their own self-interest as they perceive it, just as we do.

No, my anti-French proclivities run much deeper than mere geopolitics. This is about that snooty French woman in the ticket booth at the Louvre in 1984. When I had trouble figuring out how many francs tickets sold for and apparently wasn’t moving fast enough to suit her, she rapped my knuckles, shook her little Gallic fist in my face, and called me several unsavory names in French. I couldn’t enjoy the Mona Lisa after that, and I still haven’t forgot it. No, sorry Zidane, I cannot bring myself to cheer for Les Bleus. But I still think you are one of the greatest ever and have spruced up “The Beautiful Game” in a time when ugly play has threatened to sully its splendor. For that, we thank you.

25145910891.jpgThat leaves Die Nationalmannshaft. That’s German for “National Team,” not the latest Mercedes Benz supercharged engine designed for driving at breakneck speeds on the autobahn. The Germans are famous for their efficiency and technological prowess, national characteristics that manifest themselves on the pitch in the form of good team shape, crisp passing, superb defensive organization and strong finishing. Under the leadership of their young coach Juergen Klinsmann, who celebrates as wildly as his players anytime the Germans score, the Germans seem to be enjoying their moment in the sun in front of their large, exuberant home crowds. They have their own first-rate midfielder in Michael Ballack who, while not as elegant as Zidane, is nevertheless a relentless warrior who played through his painful leg cramps in the Argentina match and cracked a thunderous PK to help seal Germany’s victory. Add to that prolific striker Miroslav Klose and a host of other top notch support players, and the Germans have more than enough to run the table. Oh, and who couldn’t like a keeper like Jens Lehmann who keeps crib notes on opposing players tendencies in his socks for use during a shootout? If I was a keeper, that’s the kind of thing I would probably do–I can relate to that.

I visited Germany on that same trip that I had my ugly encounter with the lady at the Louvre. I recall that the Germans I met were pleasant and hospitable and wouldn’t have dreamed of admonishing and embarrassing me just because I was an “Ugly American.” Then I think of the thoughtful and meticulous workers at the Ingolstadt Audi plant who put my little black A4 together, and I realize these are the same people who are donning the red, black and yellow and ponying up their last Deutschmark for a chance to cheer their squad on to glory.

Ok, I know, I know, that’s not much of a connection, but like I said, what’s an American guy to do in such circumstances? He holds his nose and “plays on,” that’s what he does.

  1. JRB

    Indeed, what’s a Yank to do on July 4?

    I just can’t pull for the Germans. I love my VW. I love my Addidas. I like the way they play, and they’ve put on a good show. We had a pleasant conversations with some Germans on holiday on a train across Hungary one day. Even so, Germany caused most of the bloodshed in the bloodiest century in human history. Plus, my VW was really made in Mexico.

    I was engaged in Italy, on a beautiful summer night in Venice. It’s a beautiful land, full of lovely people and wine flowing like water. Even so, their team is a flopping bunch of diving pansies.

    Portugal, after the Netherlands, and after England, I can’t be sympathetic. The Rooney Conspiracy was rotten. As Davies said yesterday, if Rooney were going to be sent off, he should have stomped harder. Their keeper was great at the end, but they’ve just fanagled their way this far, fighting and flopping, scheming and winking. No Obgrigado.

    VIVE LA FRANCE! We only met super frendly, very helpful folks in France, even waiters in Paris. They’re playing clean, fun, energetic soccer. They’re team is racially diverse and proud of their mates. Plus, July 4 probably wouldn’t mean much to us without their Navy anyhow. Then, we’d get the added bonus of seeing France actually win IN GERMANY. That just defies history.

  2. Mike the Eyeguy


    Your historical reasoning and sound sentiments are rock solid. I noticed that Davies is going with France as well and made a case similar to yours that Americans should too.

    I confess that I’m in a quandry. I watched the France/Brazil match again in its entirety last night just so I could watch Zidane work his magic–oh my!

    Is it possible to root for a single player rather than a team? Just think what could have been had the Lady of the Louvre been just a little bit nicer…

  3. J Bush

    Well, I hardily concurr with the two teams that can easily be written off (Portugal and Italy) for all the reasons that have been so eloquently enumerated (bunch of pansies!). This gives me enough information to know who to root for in the semis. If we get the desired final — Germany v. France– I will be as happy as an American can possibly be with the result. In that case, I think I will also be for Germany. They’ve had little reason for any sense of national pride in a long time, and the French always have way too much of it.

  4. Mike the Eyeguy


    Excellent point–a case can be made that the Germans need this much more than the French. From what I’ve read and heard, Germany’s run is producing a much needed boost to their pride and nationalism. For instance, flag sales are up over 300%.

    I forgot to mention that we here in Huntsville have an added reason for pulling for Die Nationalmannshaft. Von Braun and the other rocket scientists (several of whom are in their nineties and can still be spotted here and there) helped make this town what it is.

    One of the nice residuals from the strong German presence here is that there is never a shortage of good wiener schnitzel in this town. We owe them a hat tip for that if nothing else.

  5. JRB

    I owe my marriage and family to Von Braun, in some measure, and his ex-Nazi cohorts who preferred New Mexico and North Alabama to Siberia, but do we really, do we really, do we really, want to encourage German nationalism?

    I’m all for feeding their economy, but not so much their pride. “They’ve had little reason for any sense of national pride for a long time” for very good reasons.

  6. Mike the Eyeguy


    Ah yes, I almost forgot the role of the Saturn V in your past. We could really go places with that little bit of symbolism, but let’s not.

    As someone who is constantly concerned with peripheral vision, I can appreciate your historian’s eye and concerns over a rekindling of German nationalism in the wake of a World Cup Victory. But perhaps the presence of the over 75,000 U.S. troops and airmen who are still in Germany will help keep any post-Cup celebrations within reasonable limits!

  7. J Bush

    In my opinion, yes. Pride in their accomplishments on the athletic field is exactly the kind of healthy, robust and well-deserved pride we DO want to encourage in Germany. This is not dangerous. Telling them they must be continually ashamed of themselves and denying them any sense of joy in their national identity is.

    I completely understand why anyone would disagree with me. But that’s is my personaly conclusion, anyway, having lived there myself and being somewhat a student of their culture.

  8. Mike the Eyeguy

    A soccer post giving rise to a good discussion of history and geopolitics–very cool. It just goes to show how large and tentacled this soccer thing really is. I hope I live to see the day when more Americans will finally “get it.”

    It makes me want to read that book How Soccer Explains the World: An Unlikely Theory of Globalization.

  9. JRB

    Being a big believer in redemption, I criticize Germany with tongue in cheek, a little. I’ve never been there, but I don’t think German is a very pretty language. I hope and pray that Germany is redeemed, and I hope that no one takes their 20th century place.

    On a more positive note, I seriously am very impressed with France’s team diversity. They look American. They helped us win our revolution, and we inspired theirs. France struggles with its national identity as it welcomes waves of immigrants, mostly from its former colonies. France understands the scourge of war and the danger of extremism, having had two world wars on its own soil, ravaging its population. I know that I stand among very few, in a chilly corner of the room in contemporary America, but I have great sympathy and admiration for France, even its politics. They are a lot more like us than most of us want to admit these days. France is easily the most diverse team on the pitch this month, now that we’re out of the tournament, and I think that’s worthy to cheer.

  10. Mike the Eyeguy

    Good points about France’s diversity there JRB–Zidane is a “non-practicing” Muslim who was born and raised in French housing projects and there are several players of African descent, along with a short, funny looking caucasian who is all over the pitch named Frank Ribery who I am convinced is descendant from Napoleon himself.

    THIS JUST IN! Apparently the reason behind the ugly scuffle that took place following the Germany-Argentina match has come to light. German midfielder Torsten Frings has been fined and suspended from the semifinal for an apparent assault on Argentine international Julio Cruz. Not sure if there was provocation there or not, but it doesn’t matter; Frings is out against Italy.

  11. DAVID u

    I think I will pull for the Italians. They have the best food, and that is usually the only criteria I need! 🙂


  12. hermit Jeremy

    30,000 German mercinaries, hired by the Brits, fought against the American troops in the Revolutionary War. If for no other reason than this, we should not root for them on this day… this coming weekend, maybe… Heute? keinmal!

  13. Mike the Eyeguy

    What an educated, historically literate and hungry readership I have. I’m so proud!

    Enjoy the match everyone!

  14. Seattlesoccermom

    You watched the France-Brazil game again in its entirety?

    AARGH! I know covetousness is a sin, but is it a fatal one? Because I think I’m going to die of envy! I would eat worms to see this game again. I was too nervous to enjoy it the first time. I even missed the Henry goal (although I have since seen it multiple times on that wonderful public service site, YouTube.)

    I always have a hard time settling down to watch games I have a strong interest in. Blame it on my Denver girl upbringing. Yeah, sure, NOW people remember the two Super Bowl rings, but how many times before that did my beloved Broncs lift me up, up, up, only to stomp on my heart?

    And let’s not talk about the last Super Bowl, where I was let down not by my beautiful boys in blue and green, but by the ugly ones in black and white. 🙁 Is it any wonder I now have commitment issues when it comes to big games?

    But that does leave me feeling a little…well…depressed when the unexpected happens and the team I love actually wins, as happened here, and I didn’t fully experience it. I keep scouring the internet looking for the video of this game. So far I just keep coming up with France Brazil 1998. Good in its own right, but not MY game the way this one was.

  15. Mike the Eyeguy

    If I could record from my DVR onto disc or tape I would send it to you, but alas I can’t.

    You probably know this already, but you can find World Cup video highlights here.

    You’ve got all the signs of post-World Cup Blues.  A live match between DC United and Real Madrid is just what the doctor ordered.

  16. Seattlesoccermom

    Yes, the live match was what the doctor ordered. I’m on a bit of overload — Real Madrid was kind of like a World Cup All-Stars reunion team. Beckham did play, first half, and pretty much everybody else played also. (I love the unlimited subs in friendlies like this.) Cannavaro, Raul, Sergio Ramos, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Emerson, Roberto Carlos, Cicinho… And I know I’m forgetting others. Aside from Beckham, it was actually kind of hard to tell who was who from our good-but-high-up seats, since none were in the country jersey’s I’d recognize them in, the RM jerseys had no names, and the stadium (amazingly) didn’t sell programs. But it was great fun nonetheless.

    Of course you’ve read it was a draw at this point, but that doesn’t tell the real story. DC has incredible(!!!) defense (and the ability to put together one great scoring run), RM has amazing everything else. Except, today, scoring capability.

    There is a palpable difference in energy level with RM. They run faster, pass more accurately, foul more egregiously, and dive more melodramatically. All delivering the kind of excitement and drama that puts butts in the seats. Butts with wallets. This is what a billion dollars can buy. This is what the US is lacking. Not the technical and tactical skills, necessarily, but the kind of “I don’t care if I die of hunger, thirst or exploded kidneys, I’m not missing a minute of this game” excitement. Just my opinion.

    Speaking of dives, my hat is off to this ref. He didn’t fall for any of it. There’s something highly entertaining about seeing grown men rolling around while writhing in apparent agony — until they realize that it’s no use, there’s no whistle, and the ball has moved fifty yards downfield. At which point they sheepishly get up and follow the play. Bravo, ref.

    And now the dilemma. No more World Cup. No more Superstar matches. NOW WHAT???

    Oh, right. My boys both start soccer season in a few weeks. 🙂

  17. Mike the Eyeguy

    Ah, that’s a great review of the match! What a wonderful opportunity for you and your sons–congrats on taking advantage of that.

    I just done reading the Seattle Times account too, and is sounds like there was some good soccer on display despite the less intense atmosphere of a friendly. I know that MLS teams are in mid-season form and the English and Continentals are just starting up, but still, that’s a win and a tie by my count (I know there are some others scheduled too). We’ve got a long way to go, but there’s measurable progress.

    A couple of suggestions for your post-WC, post-exhibition match blues: read (if you haven’t done so already) How Soccer Soccer Explains the World: An Unlikely Theory of Globalization and The Thinking Fan’s Guide to the World Cup. Both are excellent, heady reads that will help the withdrawal symptoms! And while you’re at it, be sure to read my WC posts from June and also May when I saw the US team live in Nashville.

    Have a great time on the pitch this fall with your sons!

  18. Seattlesoccermom

    Thanks for the reading recommendations. I’m guessing the Nick Hornby essay in “Thinking Fan’s Guide” is the one that appeared in National Geographic?


    Hilarious. If the rest are anything similar, I’ll be getting the book.

    I just stole my last post to start my own blog, having recently gotten back in touch with the “I write, therefore I am” aspect of my personality. Link to me occasionally!

  19. Mike the Eyeguy

    Yes, I believe that’s the same one. Each country has their own essay. I didn’t find it until after the WC was over. It would have been better to read prior to, but it was still enjoyable afterwards.

    I’ll be watching your blog for some good soccer stuff–keep it up!

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