A thumbs-up to the World Cup from a soccer-illiterate internationalist

You’re right, this is a very unusual topic for me. We’ve never really followed soccer, except to watch our kids play when they were small. It’s not really on our radar screen. And for many years, when we’d make an effort to watch something big like the World Cup, past camera technology couldn’t really provide the up-close details of what the players were really doing, so it just seemed like an endless effort of running up and down a remarkably large field (way bigger than an American football field) to score a very small number of goals. More modern technology has put that misunderstanding to rest, in spades. Man, do those athletes do extraordinary things with their bodies and that ball … continually.  Incredible.

Even for those who’ve known forever that soccer/football is unbelievably exciting to watch, the serious concerns of the lack of human rights in the host country Qatar for women and the LGBTQ+ community has turned many away from this year’s World Cup, as a protest against those violations. (OK, and the concern over just how many abused migrant workers actually died during the construction of the facilities.) Just pretend the World Cup isn’t on.

But … this is the first year since 1986 that Canada has made it to the World Cup finals (and the first time since 1958 that Wales has made the World Cup finals). Canada’s matches had to be watched; that was a given.

The bottom line is that we watched the Canada matches and it didn’t take long to be hooked to keep watching. You’re reminded of what an honour it is for every single one of the 32 countries whose teams made it to the World Cup finals, including Canada. Canada’s team didn’t win any of their matches, but they played beyond the expectations of many, including outside the country, and were a thrill to watch.  They did themselves and all Canadians proud; they’ll be ready for their entry in 2026.

The optimistic side of me always looks for situations in which people from different countries and/or cultures have reason to get together and share what they have in common instead of what divides them. We need more of this, not less. Sports is one such way (and so is immigration, folks!).  In North America, people watch baseball, basketball, and hockey (and I hear that some people watch the NA version of football 😉 ).  There are players from many countries playing on those sports teams in North America, but they’re not representing their own country, they’re representing their team.  There’s good international representation in professional tennis, and relatively good international representation in golf.  But surely no other sport can hold a candle to the international flavour of soccer, which is played with passion in virtually every country of the world. The Beautiful Game.

Even though the World Cup play is now down to the Round of 16, and soon the quarterfinals will start, being one of the 32 countries whose team made it to the World Cup finals is huge, it’s a moment of great pride.  And it’s impossible not to feel that spirit coming from every team and their fans.

To give you a sense of the scope, these are all the countries that have qualified and played in at least one FIFA World Cup final over the years: Algeria, Angola, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Cameroon, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, Congo DR, Costa Rica, Côte d’Ivoire, Croatia, Cuba, Czechia, Denmark, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, England, France, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Haiti, Honduras, Hungary, Iceland, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Kuwait, Mexico, Morocco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, Northern Ireland, North Korea, Norway, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Romania, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Scotland, Senegal, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Sri Lanka, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Togo, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, Turkey, UAE, Ukraine, USA, and Wales. And there is an equally long list of countries that have played in the qualifiers but have yet to make it to the World Cup finals. Soccer/football is the truly international sport!

The 32 teams that made the World Cup, representing 6 continents, every continent but Antarctica!  WorldCup-FullBracket

And there is absolutely no doubt that each team’s countrymen (and women) puts on a show of support that is a spectacle in and of itself. In fact, if there were no game at all and the competition were simply about who is supporting their country better, it would be a tough call. Every country has unbelievably creative and passionate fans. Watching their costumes, face paint, and never-ending singing and chanting is one of my favourite parts of the World Cup. I wish I had thought to take photos of my favourite fans off our TV, but these will have to do to give you an idea. Those fans came from long ways away and weren’t going to waste time being shy. Being the softie that I am, I love watching the pride and passion with which most fans display their support. (Let’s put aside a few outliers of very poor conduct against former enemies/victims, such as that shown by some Serbian fans in the match against Switzerland.)

Senegal, one of my favourites. They didn’t stop swaying and chanting for the entire match.  WorldCup-Senegal

Brazil, showing support for their ailing soccer hero, Pelé.  WorldCup-Pele

France, with lots to cheer about.  WorldCup-France

South Korea had an exciting win over Portugal in the first round, taking them to the Round of 16. WorldCup-Korea

Canada’s bright young star, Alphonso Davies, scored Canada’s first ever World Cup goal! WorldCup-Canada

One part of the opening ceremony of each match that I especially like is the singing of each national anthem. For the most part, the players and fans sing their anthem with great gusto, which I just love doing myself. The more gusto, the better. (I told you I was a softie.)

Ecuador’s team singing their national anthem with gusto. WorldCup-EquadorAnthem

Equally impressive, the Iranian players did not sing their anthem at their first match in support of the continuing protests in their country right now. After their families were threatened by the authorities back home, the understanding is that the players mouthed the words in order to protest but protect their families. It’s difficult for take this in. These are people who just want to be proud Iranians on the world stage, playing a sport for their country, and this is what they must contend with. And so it goes around the world.

Iran’s team demonstrates solidarity with protests through a silent anthem. Showing courage. WorldCup-Iran

At the time of writing this, the slots for the quarterfinals are filling up. As always happens, some countries will advance and others will be putting their 2022 experiences in their memory banks for, hopefully, the next time. But if we can just take the back stories and side stories out of the equation for a few minutes – the politics and discrimination (and money) – and concentrate on the brilliance of the soccer play and the inspiring passion of their fans, we can appreciate why the World Cup is the pinnacle of international sport (OK, the Olympics fits in there somewhere!).

Down to the Round of 16 and still representing 6 continents, though not for long. WorldCup-RoundOf16

I’m already looking forward to 2026, when Canada is going to make it to – who knows – maybe the quarterfinals?!

 

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29 Responses to A thumbs-up to the World Cup from a soccer-illiterate internationalist

  1. debscarey says:

    I have to admit that the football World Cup in Qatar has remained unwatched. I could claim I’m making some sort of protest, but the truth is, I never watch football, because I’m a rugby fan. I’ve also lived in London where the tribal nature of football fans strikes fear into the hearts of residents, leaving me not warmly disposed to the sport. I’ve seen 2 matches live – and enjoyed them – realising that I also loathe the shouty nature of football commentary (at least that’s what we experience in the UK).

    But… I do love the positive aspects of sport and those who support it. When fans are good natured rather than drunk and destructive, it’s a joy. The wit & humour they can display have caused me to break into a smile, a chuckle, if not downright actual LOL-ing.

    Nice work Canada, and I hope they enjoy 2026 even more 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • Jane Fritz says:

      I hear you, Debs. The nice thing with these World Cup fans is that the renowned soccer hooliganism is not in evidence. It’s all about the wit and humour you refer to, and the joy of rooting for their national team. That’s what I’m enjoying. Thanks for the well-wishes for our budding Canadian men’s team.

      Like

  2. Not in my wildest imagination would I ever come within an inch of calling myself a sports fan—but your blog had me hooked from beginning to end. You’ve gotta really go some to get me to read anything sports-related, but you did it. Congratulations on a great post!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Victoria says:

    Thank you for this, Jane! I know little about soccer but might become more knowledgeable as a future fan because of your post. I love what you’ve shared about solidarity, loyalty and love of country. 😘

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Wow Jane, you’ve really got into it! Interesting take for me, as I’ve never been a fan but understand how important it is for those who are. I’ve only ever been to one football match & had very little idea of what was going on! Most interesting for me was to watch the faces of the fans I was with, and hear them bellowing out their support. I’ve never forgotten that! I’m more of a people watcher than a sports watcher and I liked seeing your pics of the fans in supportive gear – that’s fun. Recently took a visitor out for lunch in a pub where there were at least 4 screens showing matches – not my ideal venue but we didn’t know it was going to be like that. I ended up watching the faces of people in the pub watching the match on the nearest screen, and catching interesting glimpses of the players, not while they were playing but in between, while they regrouped, or lined up. Their facial expressions were fascinating & kept me entertained.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I am with you, Jane! Soccer ignoramus, really couldn’t imagine why folks wanted to watch athletes running around for 90 minutes and possibly never scoring… boring I thought. Then along came Alphonso Davies whom I claim as kin and I was glued to the games Canada played in. Riveting! Amazing athletes and the reason there are so few goals is that they are so good, fast and able to keep the ball out of their nets. I loved game 1 and thought we more than held our own, and Phonzie’s goal at the beginning of game 2 took my breath away. It seems Canada belongs at this level of competition and I look forward to the World Cup coming here in 4 years. I think I might be an emerging soccer fan… (That being said, I have a lot of sympathy for Christine Sinclair’s position that our women who ARE the best in the world deserve a lot more support, and funding)

    Liked by 2 people

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Great comments, Jill. I knew Alphonso reminded me of someone, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it! 😏 He’s amazing. I completely agree with your analysis of our team and their performance. Christine Sinclair is correct, of course, and from now on I’ll follow both teams. ⚽️🇨🇦

      Like

  6. Roy McCarthy says:

    Nice post from the fringes Jane 🙂 Like it or loath it, the World Cup is hard to avoid or ignore. At least the four matches a day are boiling down to manageable proportions now. The early games themselves have been more compelling than many expected with some of the lesser dogs giving the giants a bite or two. France, England and Brazil emerging as favourites with the first two of those squaring up on Saturday.
    Yes the fans have been great and the loutish element, more intent on being the centre of attention than they are supporting their country, haven’t been missed. I’m with you as regards Senegal – they’d be up there for first prize for supporting along with a few others. Yes, nice to see Canada having their day in the sun. Happily your women’s team have qualified for the Women’s World Cup being held next year, another great event to look forward to.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Jane Fritz says:

      And, always being a lover of the underdog, Morocco is now off the quarterfinals as well! Aside from the high-quality play, I do think the lack of loutish behaviour makes it quite a different experience, and the fact that people are rooting for their country rather than their team probably provides this more positive atmosphere as well. You’re right about Canada’s Women’s team, Roy, they’re impressive on the world stage. In fact, Canada is about to be home to a women’s professional soccer league!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Go, Canada! Not a sports fan at all, but I do take notice when the U. S. is doing well.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Margaret says:

    Love this Jane …..
    “The optimistic side of me always looks for situations in which people from different countries and/or cultures have reason to get together and share what they have in common instead of what divides them. We need more of this, not less. Sports is one such way (and so is immigration, folks!).”

    Liked by 2 people

    • Rose says:

      I also loved that sentence Margaret!
      I like watching sports, but I’m not sure I can all myself an avid ‘fan’.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Jane Fritz says:

        I’m pleased that you also picked up on the most personally relevant statement in this post, Rose. 😊 Re being an avid fan, I would call myself a fairly avid fan of the Toronto Raptors (basketball) and Toronto Blue Jays (baseball), but that’s because they’re Canada’s national teams. They represent all of Canada in those leagues, so rooting for them comes naturally!

        Like

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Thanks for highlighting this message, Margaret. That’s really what it’s all about for me. 💕

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Wynne Leon says:

    I love this roundup. You may be a self-proclaimed soccer illiterate but you are so well-versed in community, hope, togetherness and delight that you’ve covered the spirit of the World Cup well. Thank you, Jane!

    Liked by 2 people

  10. germac4 says:

    Thanks for a great post, and a good summary of the game. Congratulations to you and my Canadian friends for Canada getting into the finals, and in that weather!
    I agree, Iran’s team were very brave.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Many thanks, Gerrie. Good point about our weather, but we do have far more months without snow than with … and of course with global warming, who knows, we might become a Mecca for soccer players! 😏

      Liked by 1 person

  11. This was a wonderful FIFA ride; thanks so much for taking us on it, Jane. I agree that the Iranian team’s silence in the face of what must be relentless pressure from above has been inspiring to watch. CBS News’ Roxana Saberi, herself a former victim of the Iranian security forces (she spent time in the notorious Evin prison), distinguished herself at the press conferences by speaking to the team in Farsi and asking relevant questions. This has been a really exciting World Cup this time around. – Marty

    Liked by 1 person

  12. dfolstad58 says:

    I am awe of the work to put together this post. I showed it to my son and we watched many of the matches together. The Senegal fans were my favorite – what colour!♥ Unfortunately it seems like the teams I cheered for all were knocked out but I agree it is a huge honour to attend and compete. The USA Super Bowl could take note – this is the definition of a world championship, 6 continents – international participation. I laugh at the audacity of the Super Bowl promoters when they call their NFL championship a world championship, however they want to justify it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Many thanks, David. Re the Super Bowl, at least they don’t call it the World Super Bowl, unlike the MLB with the World Series! 😏 Mind you, I guess having the Blue Jays makes it International!! Once the team(s) I’m rooting for are gone, I go with the underdogs. At this point in time I’m cheering for Morocco! 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Bernie says:

    Haven’t had a chance to respond because we are too busy watching and talking soccer!! Huge fan of the woman’s team and nice to see the men make it to the World Cup. They did about as well as I anticipated they would. I think if that penalty kick had gone in it might have been a different story. Good write up. Bernie

    Liked by 1 person

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