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Why I pull against the U.S. in the World Cup

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Ghana's Asamoa Gyan takes a call from his country's president before yesterday's match with Germany, in which he scored
Ghana’s Asamoah Gyan takes a call from his country’s president before yesterday’s match with Germany, in which he scored

I love the United States; it’s the country that took in my grandfathers and provided me with comfort and meaningful engagement. But today when the US plays Portugal in the World Cup, I imagine I’ll be pulling for Portugal, just as I found myself screaming my throat hoarse for Ghana last week against the U.S. in a lost cause. My feelings about these games are instinctual. Why do I have them and how do I justify them? Well:

–We have too much. We dominate the world’s culture and finances, our language is all over the FIFA promotion of the contest. Why should we get this too?

–It’s not even our game. Our best athletes go into other sports– which produce a lot more concussions. Let countries that put their hearts into this game savor its great rewards.

–The World Cup is the world’s stage, and the joy of the World Cup is watching third world or marginalized nations achieve dignity in the eyes of humanity. African teams are the ultimate underdogs. I pull for any African team to go through, and Ghana, Nigeria and Ivory Coast all have a shot. And the great Iranian team has gained an international following.

–I write about the Middle East and try and fight racism against Arabs. This World Cup has seen a number of wonderful goals scored by athletes of Arab background, Karim Benzema of France, and Marouane Fellaini of Belgium, Sofiane Feghouli of Algeria. How can you not watch these athletes without reflecting that, as Chris Matthews said the other night, the U.S. kills Arabs when it goes to war, “that’s what we do.” Steve Walt estimated a few years back that we’ve killed 288,000 Muslims in the last 30 years.

I don’t like identity politics, but I find that I just can’t separate these politics from the great spectacle of the World Cup.

The two Boatengs, during the Ghana Germany match
The two Boatengs, during the Ghana Germany match

And it’s been a great World Cup, with one surprise after another, high-scoring dramatic games, late goals. Yes I know it’s a fete of nationalism, but if you’re going to celebrate the nation, let it be the little ones. How can anyone want the imperial powers to win? I want small countries that have been overlooked and squatted on and crushed to distinguish themselves. The triumphs of Nigeria and the Ivory Coast and Costa Rica and Chile have been thrilling. Ghana’s performance against Germany in the second half yesterday, and Germany’s right back at em, has been considered the best soccer of the tournament. Iran’s near-draw against Argentina was valiant and inspiring, as Hassan Rouhani noted.

And any goal by any African player is a source of pride for a continent treated as a source of minerals and slaves and anthropology by Europe and the U.S.

If this World Cup has demonstrated anything to a dedicated viewer, it’s that the world is one, that race is a superficial category that has less and less meaning, and the nation isn’t far behind. People immigrate wherever they can to do better in a globalized era. Iran’s Ashkan Dejagah and the U.S. substitute/star John Brooks are both from Berlin, I can’t keep the Boatengs straight, the Swiss team is led by Albanians, a man of Turkish descent is the hardest-working German, and Balotelli is– Balotelli.

Of course the U.S. is a nation of immigrants, and our team is a rainbow. Some day I know I’ll pull for the U.S. with pride. When it feels like there’s a more even playing field.

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100% with you on this, Phil!

I am so glad to know this… I never have felt bad about rooting for some semblance of justice by cheering on the ‘underdog’! Besides, they play with such heart!

A great article — you write beautifully.

Are you familiar with the Said work called Orientalism?
Your sentiment seems real enough, but seems to be infused with white mans burden and paternalism.

Thanks, Phil. I completely agree. I was in the airport last week when the US played Ghana and it seemed the entire waiting area erupted in cheers when the US won, but I was rooting for Ghana for the very reasons that you state: “…but if you’re going to celebrate the nation, let it be the little ones. How can anyone want the imperial powers to win? I want small countries that have been overlooked… Read more »

Right on Phil!
Its very fun to watch.

Ghana, Nigeria, Iran plays very good according to their premises.

Perhaps you should move to Ghana, Iran or ‘Palestine’?