Why Shifting World Cup Fandoms Doesn't Always Work Out

Jul 4, 2018
Originally published on July 4, 2018 6:49 am
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NOEL KING, HOST:

Eight countries remain in the World Cup tournament. Defending champions Germany are out. Spain, which won prior to Germany, also out. Many U.S. fans adopted Mexico, and then Mexico was bounced. So commentator Mike Pesca has gone looking for new countries to support during the course of the tournament, and it has not been working out well.

MIKE PESCA: First, I got behind Iceland. How could you not root for Iceland? Three-hundred forty-five thousand people, it's like Corpus Christi, Texas, made the World Cup. I've been to Iceland - geysers, waterfalls. Also in Reykjavik, a rock 'n' roll museum located in a public toilet. Laugh all you want. By the time you get to the last stall, you really get a sense of the Icelandic rock 'n' roll scene through the years. Then, Iceland falls behind to Nigeria, and I think, maybe I've been going about this all wrong.

I've been rooting for Iceland because they're an underdog - country of 345,000 people and all that. Maybe I should be rooting for Nigeria. Over 190 million people will be happy if they win. This is the Jeremy Bentham utilitarian rooting method, the most good for the most people. Yes, I shall root for Nigeria. And they do indeed beat Iceland, but lose the next game, and they're eliminated.

OK. New strategy, new criteria. So far, I've been going with underdogs representing functional democracies. I mean, if I wanted to back an oppressive regime, I'd be a New England Patriots fan. So Uruguay, only three-and-a-half million people, other than the kind of ridiculously-small-when-you-think-about-it Iceland, Uruguay is the least-populous country in the World Cup. And functioning democracy? Oh, my. Freedom House ranks them ninth-freest country in the world, way higher than the U.S.

Thing is, Luis Suarez bit a guy. Their star player, known to bite. My son, when he was 5, had a friend named Quincy (ph), who was also a biter. Cute kid, but I couldn't root for him in the World Cup. So I'd have to root for Uruguay's opponent, Portugal. You know, they have the 11th-freest country. And that Ronaldo, he's a handsome, handsome man. And they lose to the Uruguayan masticator.

OK. On to Spain versus Russia. Russia is the underdog. But I can't root for Russia. And how do you know you're actually even rooting for Russia and not some 400-pound guy sitting on his bed? Can't root for Russia, they win. OK. I can root for Mexico. They play in the same international soccer group as the U.S. - CONCACAF. CONCACAF pride. CONCACAF buddies got to have each other's back. Am I right? Doesn't matter. Mexico goes down to Brazil.

All right. Well, yesterday, I got curious about Colombia, the only country Freedom House says significantly improved its freedom last year. Why do I think I'm the only World Cup fan using Freedom House tables to determine my allegiance? Anyway, what I like about Colombia is their nickname. These national teams all have unofficial nicknames. Nigeria are the Super Eagles. Japan are the Samurai Blue. Germany - die Mannschaft. Colombia - los cafeteros, the coffee growers. Los cafeteros. Los cafeteros. And they were decaffeinated by England on penalty kicks.

I suppose there are still some attractive candidates out there I could throw my fandom to, the Swedes or the Belgians or the French, thereby dooming those teams in the process. I am the human red card of rooting. You know, all I really wanted was for the U.S. to be in this competition. It makes it so much more fun, and I supported them with a passion bordering on fervor. I'm still trying to figure out how they lost.

KING: Mike Pesca is host of the Slate podcast The Gist. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.