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!
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.
Brazil, showing support for their ailing soccer hero, Pelé.
France, with lots to cheer about.
South Korea had an exciting win over Portugal in the first round, taking them to the Round of 16.
Canada’s bright young star, Alphonso Davies, scored Canada’s first ever World Cup goal!
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.
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.
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.
I’m already looking forward to 2026, when Canada is going to make it to – who knows – maybe the quarterfinals?!