How do you know when you’ve arrived in a land that’s passionate about soccer? Unfortunately, when you see it used as a projection screen for people’s prejudices.
Exhibit A: Already in the jetway at Tegel Airport, we’re greeted by posters featuring a wistful little boy and the caption: “A trip to South Africa – every little boy’s dream.” For good measure, the poster exists in both English and German. There’s no poster depicting every little girl’s dream, although the German women’s soccer team is the reigning world champion!
Exhibit B: A tabloid headline trumpeting today’s Germany-England match that proclaims, “We’ll beat the little Englishwomen [die kleine Engländerinnen].” No, it didn’t call the English players pussies, but only because Germany has these handy feminized endings that can be tacked onto nouns.
So there’s something to be said for a soccer culture in which boys and girls play together through sixth grade and there’s no official scorekeeping, like in our little league in Athens.
On the other hand, the flip side of America’s relaxed relationship to soccer is this: 300 million residents, and apparently not a single young man with a killer instinct for the goal! At least that’s the impression I got from yesterday’s game. In the second half, the American guys worked out one magical chance after another … and the ball magically ended in the Ghanaian goalkeeper’s tender embrace, every single time. The Germans have a word for this – abschlußschwach – meaning you just can’t drive the goal home. Soooo frustrating.
German soccer commentary also spends a lot of time discussing whether a win was verdient or unverdient – deserved or not. Sometimes, a team can play brilliantly and still lose. I don’t know how much “deservingness” is a cultural peculiarity, but I don’t recall hearing the mostly-British announcers on ESPN spend much breath on questions of soccer justice. In the US-Ghana match, a tie would have been a just outcome for two teams who both played a dazzling, captivating game; that would have been “verdient” for both sides. Only the single-elimination format precluded it.
I’m still psyched for the US-American team. We might not be a Great Power in soccer – not yet – but we also weren’t a Great Embarrassment. Yesterday’s match was so much more fun to watch than that snoozer between Brazil and Portugal. That’s something to celebrate.
Now, on to Germany-England. I’m happy to still have one of “my” teams in the tournament. Also: Yay Uruguay! They play entertaining soccer, plus they are really good looking. (But that would be a topic for another post, wouldn’t it?)