From Iceland — Who to Support, the Underdog or the Beautiful Game?

Who to Support, the Underdog or the Beautiful Game?

Published June 17, 2010

Who to Support, the Underdog or the Beautiful Game?
It’s human nature to support the underdog. Dickens knew it. Hollywood knows it. We love to root for the underdog. Witness the success of the Mighty Ducks trilogy. But it’s also human nature to admire those whose mastery of a skill or an art is far beyond those of others. In football people talk of “the beautiful game,” by which they mean clean, crisp, attacking football. Spain at the last European Championships triumphed by playing like that. Coming into the World Cup they were the neutrals’ favorite. If you wanted the team that played the game in the most aesthetically pleasing fashion to win, then Spain was supposed to be your team.
I’ll admit that the Spain – Switzerland game presented me with those opposing loyalties. I couldn’t help but cheer for Switzerland when, after 50 minutes of spirited, intelligent defending, they snatched a goal in dramatic fashion. But as I exulted in the upset my other thought was: “Great! Now Spain will have to step up their game. This will be beautiful.” Unfortunately that didn’t happen, and Spain were stifled by the smart play of the Swiss. Cue day long celebrations in Switzerland, cue Spanish tears, cue conflicted feelings in the hearts of neutrals.
Supporting the underdog is instinctual. In most sporting contests I would’ve been happy to see the less fancied team win. But yesterday I felt a twinge, a near panic, at the thought of Spain not making it far this year. I don’t like using the term “deserving winners,” teams that lose don’t deserve to win, but Spain have been so pleasurable to watch in the last few years, that I would hate hate hate to see them go out. And there’s another niggle.
Switzerland and Spain share Group H with Chile and Honduras. Honduras aren’t very good, so might end up losing to all other teams. Chile as I’ve mentioned before, are an incredible team. They have seemingly only one strategy, and that’s to run in numbers with the ball towards the opposing goal and weave their way through the defensive line. It’s a different kind of beautiful game, and thrilling to watch. The Switzerland loss could mean that the game between Spain and Chile could determine who gets out of the group, swashbuckling Chile or artful Spain. Having either team leave would be a great shame.
The question is, who would I root for if the next set of Group H matches, Spain vs. Honduras and Chile vs. Switzerland, result in a straight playoff between Chile and Spain for passage into the second round? Arithmetic would suggest that Chile, being both a source of joy on the field and the underdogs, should win my heart. But Spain play with such incredible beauty that I would mourn their loss.
Situations like this are why the World Cup are such an emotional rollercoaster. All teams are unfolding narratives, stories that engage our feelings. And for every triumph there are many tragedies.

Photo by boxercab.

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