I’ve talked about my admiration for Spain before, but admiration isn’t love. I’d be perfectly happy to see them lift the trophy, but it’s not what I’m hoping for. In some ways Spain is the descendant of the glorious Zico-Socrates Brazilian team of the 80s, y’know, the one that never won the World Cup, playing as they do with two playmakers and a pair of roving strikers. But they haven’t really caught fire in this tournament like they did in the European Championships of 2008, so, again, unless you’re emotionally linked to the team, they’re not really worth your love.
Oh, Holland… you’re doing so well, but you’re playing such dull football. I don’t know what to think… yes, it’s effective, and sometimes there are glimpses of the beauty that the Oranje has often brought to international football, but unless the team has thunder and lightning coming out of its collective sphincter in the game against Brazil, it’s hard to see how anyone can support this year’s model. Again, all bets are off if your heart pumps orange blood.
They play death-football.
They’re not much fun to watch, but… what is that you say?
I don’t care that they have a glorious history or that their uniforms are pretty, Brazil play an ugly brand of football. Pelé may be alive, but the style he embodied is dead. The 20 year drought of World Cup titles after the 1970 tournament, and especially the early exits in ’82 and ’86 really put the kibosh on that. Since then Brazil has won the World Cup twice playing ugly, which is much more important to the Brazilian public than playing pretty.
They’re not much… what?! My take on Brazil is bullshit? Okay okay… let me elaborate further.
So what if Kaká, Robinho and Elano have all played elegantly up front! Yes, I know that Maicon has made exciting runs up the left flank and that, in general, the counter-attacks have been well-executed and effective. But pay attention to Gilberto and Melo, the holding midfielders, who stay just in front of the defensive line, essentially functioning as extra defenders. They will foul players when Brazil loses the ball, sneakily, in such a way as to not draw a card, to shut down any fluidity in the opposing team’s attack. The Brazil game plan isn’t to play better than the other team, but to make their opponents play badly by fouling them. Death-football.
Can I talk about Paraguay now? Okay… they’re not much fun to watch, but they do what they do very well, defending deep and hoping that the other team makes a mistake. It’s a style that gets results, but it’s hard to admire, even when done as well as Paraguay does it. Unless you have some emotional connection to Paraguay, they’re not really a team to root for.
Okay, if you’re supporting Argentina, well… I’ve got nothing bad to say, really. They’re a great, attacking side with plenty of character and verve. It’s been a joy to see them monomaniacally go for goal every time they have the ball. It also helps that, because of Verón’s slow style, they can switch gears quickly, from manic attack to slow build-ups, which makes for nice and pleasant watching. They’re lovely and they’ve got Maradona as their Clown King Madman Genius, so what’s not to love? But, another kind of love supersedes Argentina in Icelandic hearts. I’ll talk about that in a bit, but first…
My favorite player as a kid was Jürgen Klinsmann. Watching him almost single-handedly demolish Holland in 1990 was one of the formative experiences of my football-obsession. So much so, in fact, that for years I would deny that I ever thought Marco van Basten was the best player in the world, not because I didn’t want to admit that I liked a player on the other side of the Dutch-German rivalry, but because to me it was so self-evident that Klinsmann was the best that I refused to believe that I had ever thought different. I still don’t remember liking van Basten best, but I know I did because other people have reminded me of it. The German teams of 1990-96 appealed to me, but after that there was a fallow decade until in 2006 when Klinsmann reshaped the entire Mannschaft in his image, making them into the defensively poor, exciting in attack, team we know and cherish. And Özil is a joy to watch, both when he has the ball, and the way he creates space for himself and others when he runs off the ball. Müller, Klose, Schweinsteiger and Podolski also make for lovely watching. I really like this German team. But… but…
I’ve talked about how Uruguay are near and dear to the heart of football-nerds, and a Uruguayan title, sixty years after the last one would be cool… but, but, they don’t have that familial connection that has to come first.
Our brothers! Denmark had a colony, the Danish Gold Coast, which was located in present day Ghana. As former fellow subjects of the House of Oldenburg and its kings alternatively named Frederik and Christian (not blessed with imagination, the Oldenburgs), Ghanaians and Icelanders share a deep, historical bond which can never be broken. Listen to your heart, Icelanders, and support our brethren who once suffered too under the Danish yoke. Hoist the red, gold and green flag with the black star, and shout yourself hoarse in front of the television this coming Friday in support of your post-colonial brethren.
GO BLACK STARS!
Photo by Helgi Hall.