I was the only person in my local café watching Uruguay vs. Costa Rica, the first game in Group D. I knew there would be more interest for England vs. Italy. Egyptian love for Latin American teams extends mostly to Brazil and Argentina.
During my 12 years in the U.S., I developed the useful skill of being able to watch a football match alone, replete with enough “Oh for fuck’s sake!” and “What the hell?” for my own edification. My dad was out running errands and was going to catch the group’s other match later with me, so I settled in, ordered my Turkish coffee, and quickly realized that it was probably for the best that I was alone.
What in heaven’s name were those Uruguay shirts about?!
Let me back up a bit. In my first blog entry, I mentioned that my first World Cup was Argentina 1978. Google some old pictures from back then or Italy 1982. You will gasp at how short the shorts were. If you trace the evolution of football kits since then, you’ll see that the shorts have got longer and baggier and the shirts tighter. And, generally, much more effort goes into a footballer’s appearance—the tattoos, the neatly trimmed beards, the mohawks, etc. All that has been a boon to the list-focused websites that pass for journalism these days. Knowing my “interest” in beards and tattoos, in the past week alone, people on Twitter have sent me things along the line of: “49 reasons why Spain is the hottest team in the World Cup.” “The 30 Hottest Beards in the World Cup.” “Players we most want to see take their shirts off at the end of every match in the World Cup,” etc. etc. etc.
I could write a dissertation on all that, but let me talk instead about sin. And football, too. I promise I’ll be getting to the actual match soon.
As I said, I was the only one watching—ogling, rather—and stream-of-consciousness tweeting about Uruguay’s shirts when the table of young men and women behind me seemed to morph into a most judgmental kind of Greek chorus of my soul.
“Does your fasting get accepted if you drink?”
One of them did indeed Google the penance necessary to have your fasting accepted if you drink, and read it out loud to the group as they were settling the bill. I wanted to ask them to look up the penance for objectifying footballers in tight shirts.
Their conversation was a reminder of how seamless devoutness and dogma were with the day-to-day in Egypt—just before the alcohol and fasting conversation, the group had planned a trip to the beach. It was also a reminder that the fasting month of Ramadan would start in the middle of the World Cup and would present a challenge not just to the drinkers out there but to the Muslim players on the various teams in Brazil. I’ll write more about that once Ramadan starts.
Despite the Group of Sin behind me, and despite Uruguay’s best efforts to make me focus on anything but the football, what a delight it was to see Costa Rica win!
My developing strategy for which teams to support is quite simple and narcissistic: Do I have a personal connection with a country playing? Egypt has once again failed to qualify. So my country of birth is not an option. Next in line is usually England because I spent my childhood there. England being England—who knows if they’ll overcome the disqualified-by-penalties-at-the-quarterfinals curse—I still need a back-up. So it has become: Have I visited or lived in the country, are there Manchester United players on the squad, etc.? And if push comes to shove and I still can’t decide: If I’ve had lovers from the countries playing, I’ll pull out lovers and place them on either end of the see-saw upon which the two teams I’m torn over sit. England vs. Italy was tough.
Despite my awe at Uruguay’s progressive and humble President José Mujica—during his term, Uruguay has legalized marijuana, same-sex marriage, and abortion—I was not swayed by the tight shirts, and was rooting for Costa Rica because I taught there for a while. And the time there served me well, because what beautiful and daring football they played!
They were unencumbered by reputation, expectation, body ink, long hair and neatly trimmed beards—i.e. they were gloriously free and audacious underdogs. It was no wonder really—although a sweet surprise—that they ended the first day of Group D matches at the top of their table.
Whether they qualify for the next round or not, Los Ticos earned enough theatrics from me that some of the waiters—assuming, no doubt, as the Uruguay team did, that the latter would sleepwalk through the match rather than be handed the case of whiplash they got—began to pay attention.
I wished the Group of Sin were still there. I wanted to tell them that it could be much simpler than Googling penance and obsessing over dogma. That given the choice, always go for pura vida as the Costa Ricans say. It frees you to be audacious and daring. And that’s how you win at life and at football.