Even though I couldn't name half of the teams involved two weeks ago, I am now displaying multiple symptoms of World Cup fever.
* getting dressed in front of the television due to early morning games
* discussing team rivalries with my daughters
* lamenting France cheating their way in due to a blatant handball
* cheering teams based solely on the esthetic appeal of their jerseys
* watching people in other nations take this sport so seriously that Canadian hockey fans go, "whoa..."
I don't really have a dog in this fight, but have decided that I will cheer for the following teams, in the following order:
* England - great chant, plus it will make a lot of people I know very happy
* Holland - my wife's family is Dutch, and Ireland didn't make it in (boo France)
* Germany - young, high scoring squad, will make Island Mike happy
* South Africa - great jerseys, host nation, catchy name (Bafana Bafana)
And even though the games themselves aren't often as fun as they should be, what with most teams playing to not lose instead of playing to win, there are still elements of the World Cup that even non-sports fans can enjoy:
Desmond Tutu: I've been an admirer of the Archbishop for some time now, but his heartfelt welcome at the opening ceremony was absolutely wonderful: I loved his comparing Africa's metamorphosis over the last three decades to 'an ugly caterpillar' becoming a 'beautiful butterfly' but my favourite was his welcome: "Africa is the cradle of humanity so we welcome you all, every single one of you. We are all Africans; welcome home!" Plus, he cuts a rug pretty well for a 78 year old clergyman.
Pachyderm Traffic - The US team has been delayed twice now by elephants on the road; you can't make stuff like that up.
Flag Day - Seeing so many different flags flying from cars and balconies. There is no "Greece Town" or "Little Chile" in Edmonton, so seeing people sporting their colours is wonderful, like the librarian the other night with her Portugal jacket, jersey and t-shirt. Plus it's been great playing "whose flag is that?" with my daughters and nephew
African Teams - Bafana Bafana is just fun to say, and how can you not love Cameroon's team, the Indomitable Lions? It's too bad that the African teams aren't faring so well against the Europeans, but hopefully some of them will make it out of the first round.
Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium - 'Nuff said.
Wavin' Flag - I don't listen to a lot of pop radio, so I am still enjoying K'naan's song and it's childish, cheerful chorus. Plus I am a huge fan of his 'you don't need gangsta cred to be a successful hip-hop artist' stance.
It's Early Yet... - but none of the four teams I am cheering for have lost a game so far.
"Hand of Clod" - the British headlines about their goalkeeper Green and the spectacular fumble that ended up giving the US a tie against them have been great. My favourite: "That's one spill the Americans can't complain about."
Fresh Commentary - In hockey you might hear, "there's a scoring chance, oh, just wide!", but with British sportscasters you get, "here is an opportunity for England to prosper..."
Nicknames - A lot of the team nicknames are simply the colours of their jerseys, but I found a list that covers things like Greece being known as "To Piratiko" (The Pirate Ship) and Algeria as "Les Fennecs" (The Desert Foxes).
The Waka Waka - The official World Cup 2010 song by Colombian artist Shakira and African band Freshlyground incorporates Latin rhythms as well as bits from an African soldier's song called Zangalewa. In addition to being infectiously catchy, it is also being used to promote world literacy. Victoria School will be dancing the Waka Waka next week and uploading it to YouTube, so I will post a link as soon as I can.
(Does anyone else love that lion logo shown at the start where his face is an outline of Africa, or just me? Someone find me that t-shirt please!)
Despite how ferocious the competition can get, or how contentious the fans, or how noisy the vuvuzelas, everyone seems to appreciate a good competition, a surprise upset, an artful goal, a daring save, and it is a great reminder that despite its size, the world really is not too big a place. 32 nations from every corner of the globe congregating to find out which country has the best football team might not be the greatest of human aspirations, but if it reminds us that we all share common ground, even North Korea, it can be a step in the right direction.