Explaining the World Cup

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Four summers ago, the city of New York opened back up at two every morning to watch soccer games in cities four time zones away. I made a bet with the busboy where I ate breakfast and won; I made bets with a friend in Germany and lost. He called after the game, the German, proud like a favorite uncle, to explain how team USA had played better than anyone had a right to expect. Almost, he said, respectably well. I pretended to be flattered, but as an American it’s my fate to never really care about the American soccer team: not indifferent, but also unable in any World Cup year to name more than a single player.

Trinidad and Tobago v. Bahrain

A sea of red from the match against Bahrain that that secured Trinidad and Tobago’s World Cup berth last November [C*POP, via Caribbean Free Radio]

This year Trinidad and Tobago made the tournament, according to the BBC favored to win at 1000 to 1. The “Soca Warriors,” they’re called, from a Trinidadian dance. The evening the warriors qualified, podcaster Georgia Popplewell recorded noise on the street in Trinidad that she describes as “blaring car horns, rhythm sections, stream of consciousness, slightly distorted audio and the sounds of a country in the throes of ecstasy.”

So for Trinidad and Tobago it’s a pretty big deal.

We want to know how soccer can explain each nation that loves it. We’ve taken as our guide the excellent but unfortunately titled The Thinking Fan’s Guide to the World Cup, which breaks down what the sport means, team by team. To the Brazilians and the Germans it’s a birthright; to England it’s a reliable Mets-style heartache. To Trinidad and Tobago: a miracle.

What is it for you? Did you marry into a soccer nation? Were you born in one? What was your best World Cup summer?

Martin Wagner

Washington DC-based reporter, Bayerischer Rundfunk

Laura Silber

Co-author, Yugoslavia: Death of a Nation

Director of Public Affairs, Open Society Institute

Vlada Novakovic

Editor, B92 Sport

Stacy-Marie Ishmael

Trinidad and Tobago blogger, AOL sports World Cup Soccer Blog

Student, London School of Economics

Robert Kellner

Correspondent, West Deutsche Rundfunk

Extra Credit Reading

Laura Smith-Spark, Anyone seen a Trinidad and Tobago shirt?, BBC Sport, May 6, 2006

Warrior Nation Blog, Trinidad and Tobago “Soca Warriors” Support Club

Viva Muqtada, Riverbend, May 31, 2006

The Soccer Shout Podcast

Play Magazine: World Cup 2006, New York Times

Don’t Tread, a music video starring USA midfielder Clint “Deuce” Dempsey


[If Germany wins] We will celebrate the night, and the next day we will look around ourselves and say, did we offend anybody? Sorry for winning, do we have to apologize somewhere?

Martin Wagner


…It’s a game, and we hope to be the best and we might be the best, and that’s it. It’s a game. We didn’t start a war, we just won a game.

Martin Wagner


The other reason for optimism was that the Serbian national team looked like a good unit of players, they did have some kind of winning spirit and they liked to play for each other. They had some sort of togetherness, and this is what Serbian football traditionally likes. We are considered to be European Brazilians.

Vlada Novakovick


This side, that Serbia has now, is more like a German [team]. They fight, they’re very hard to beat… The main idea is that togetherness has been brought back to the national team and that is what people’s hopes are being built upon.

Vlada Novakovick


[Togetherness] would be a good cure, not only when we’re talking about Serbia, but when we’re talking about all former Yugoslavia republics… I think that if nobody did learn anything from the past 15 years then this is a bit of a hopeless region.

Vlada Novakovick


…a younger generation, the people who are playing right now, came of age at the time when we didn’t remember what the heyday of cricket was all about. For us football had always been what you get on TV, what you play in backyards… it was the sport we identified with most immediately.

Stacy-Marie Ishmael


I’m extremely excited [for Trinidad playing England]. Is it going to be a historical clash? No, it really isn’t. Football was never a response to colonialism. We’re playing football to prove that we’re good enough to be recognized on the international stage. As a footballing country we’re ready to take on one of the best teams in the world.

Stacy-Marie Ishmael


Today one of our biggest tabloids printed the text of our national anthem. I think that there are very few countries–America, Britain or France–where you would have to print out the national anthem because everybody knows it by heart.

Robert Kellner


Germans are seen as a brooding, introspective people. I think everyone is looking forward to having a four-week party. The sunshine has just come in time, it’s a weekend, it’s a friday evening, everybody wants to have a good time, and let’s hope that happens.

Robert Kellner

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