A week ago, in Bogota, I asked a cab driver which team he wanted to win the World Cup. “Does it matter?” he asked back. “Colombia is not playing, so why should I care?” Half a mile ahead, he failed to hit a bus by an inch. “You almost killed us,” I said. “Would it have mattered that much?” he replied. I don’t know whether he was referring to the fact that he didn’t find me valuable enough through the rear-view mirror, or to the fact that, now that we weren’t worthy enough to participate in the World Cup, we might as well try to score a goal under a bus. That reminded me of the episode that irreparably discouraged the Colombian National Soccer Team: the murder of Andrés Escobar, the player who scored an own goal in a match against the United States during the 1994 World Cup. It is said that the killer, a mobster who had lost a fortune betting for Colombia, shouted “Gol!” as he shot Escobar.
Since Colombia has only participated in three World Cups during my life (’90, ’94, and ’98) and was eliminated early every time, my World Cup allegiances have not been ruled by nationalism. I have chosen my favorite teams based on Platonic love (which may be the opposite of love for one’s land). I rooted for Argentina in ’82, ’86, ’90, and ’94 because I was in love with Maradona. Then I rooted for France in ’98, ’02, and ’06 because I fell in love with Zidane. And this year, with Zidane out and Maradona back, I reverted to Argentina. But the day before yesterday, during the match between Spain and Switzerland, I discovered that the team that I will follow passionately is Spain.
This time my choice seems to be of a “national” nature. The Spanish team seduced me with the dramatic nationalism of its performance. I’m not talking about cohesion, or sprit de corps, or the hope for some kind of compensation for the frustrations that Spain is facing at the moment (recession, unemployment, inferiority complex, and so on), but about something more specific: the fact that the Spaniards enacted the very Spanish tradition of the Semana Santa (Passion Week). The pathetic Spanish compulsion for martyrdom was there last Wednesday, playing soccer, making soccer. And this trait was, in spite of my secularity, compelling to my memory—so I converted to Spain. (And this conversion doesn’t imply that I want to see the Spanish team victorious.)
Now I know that I will be hanging on Spain’s every shot, and that I’ll do so with melancholy and, yes, with some sense of shame, knowing that there remains a Catholic/nationalistic feeling in me—a feeling of nostalgia that is not elicited by the attachment to my homeland (by the impossible reminiscence of my own birth) but by the imagination of death.