I’ve never liked soccer. If I wanted to watch guys flop and fail to score, I’d watch my single friends attempt to work their mojo at bars.
But recent events at the World Cup have prompted me to reconsider. There’s enough weird stuff happening in Russia to keep me interested. Nobody has said that since the Mongols cleared out.
The World Cup semifinals are being played this week, leading up to next week’s final. What’s happening off the pitch is more interesting than the “action” on it. FIFA could save everyone a lot of time if it would declare every match a 1-1 tie and proceed directly to the penalty kick shootout. No offense, but this sport has no offense.
There are, however, plenty of captivating events happening around the World Cup. Take, for example, the Nigerian fans who balked upon learning they couldn’t bring chickens into a Kaliningrad stadium.
Attending their country’s game against Croatia, the Nigerians assumed they’d be able to observe their tradition of bringing live chickens inside the stadium, where they’ve been known to paint them the national colors and hold them aloft to spirited chanting.
Citing safety rules, Russian tournament officials warned Nigerian fans that live animals aren’t allowed inside. Not looking to ruffle feathers, much less start a game of chicken, the Nigerians left their birds behind and watched Croatia win 2-0. Attending a soccer match is like watching a Brad Pitt drama: You only get two moments of excitement every 90 minutes.
Soccer fans deserve points for dedication. A Russian couple paused its wedding celebration during their country’s match with Spain to ensure everyone could watch a penalty kick shootout in the quarterfinals. Hold on to that gal, Dmitry: She’s a keeper.
We’ve all been invited to weddings that conflict with a big game. You’d rather be in front of a TV, but you’re stuck doing the chicken dance with Gram-Gram while the Badgers are driving for a clinching touchdown. You find yourself asking, “Who schedules a night wedding in the fall? And why have I remained friends with them? Also, is it too late to get my money back for those candlesticks?”
Friends of Yekaterina and Dmitry Vasilyev faced no such questions. When the couple planned the ceremony, the host country was considered unlikely to advance to the quarterfinals. But Russia got hot, and its match with Spain was set to kick off at the same time as the wedding ceremony.
Love may be patient and not easily angered, but the same can’t be said of rabid soccer fans. Guests kept an eye on the score, which was — Surprise! — deadlocked at 1-1. With the shootout starting as the reception was set to begin, the bride and groom let the match take center stage, huddling around a mobile phone to the delight of guests who erupted over Russia’s 4-3 win. “It’s the best gift ever,” the groom told Reuters news service. Well, it certainly beats candlesticks.
It hasn’t been all bouquets and butterfly kisses at the World Cup. South Korea’s team found itself dodging not rice, but eggs after its lackluster tournament showing. South Korea lost its first two games, exiting the tournament in the group stage. Dismayed their national team didn’t advance, fans fired eggs at the players at the airport upon their return home. A few bad eggs decided anger is best served raw.
I don’t pretend to understand soccer. People keep saying it’ll sweep America, but I think it’s one of those European creations — like fascism and Nutella — that will catch on only among a select few.
Then again, if the fans keep painting chickens and chucking eggs and rearranging weddings around game action, I just might get on board. My single friends might as well join me: They’re accustomed to scoreless affairs.