Against the Underdog
by Gareth Simpson · July 6, 2010
During the quarterfinal between Uruguay and Ghana, maybe a little bit before it started, I had a somewhat startling realization. I didn’t care if Ghana won. I was aware that I should want Ghana to win, and that was fine, but it didn’t really resonate with me emotionally. In the next day’s match between Spain and Paraguay, I could sense a very real antipathy towards the Albirroja. As if they were somehow disturbing the natural order of things by holding Spain goalless for the balance of the match. This has led me to believe that, horror of horrors, I don’t really like an underdog.
This doesn’t really make sense to me yet. As a bleeding heart liberal, and furthermore as a citizen of Canada, the plucky underdog of developed nations, I realize that I am contravening the conventional wisdom about who I should support. But I can’t help it. I was completely indifferent to New Zealand’s miraculous run in the group stages, even the 1-1 draw to Italy, the sole national team for which I feel utter distaste.
There are some exceptions, however. I did rather enjoy watching Holland beat Brazil, but Holland are by no means conventional underdogs. I suppose I also liked seeing South Africa beat France, but it would be hard to consider the imploding French team as favourites in anything, with the exception of a competition to find the best representation of international sporting nihilism. Which, I must admit, would be a very French competition to have. But I digress.
There are a couple of reasons why I think I like the favourites. I’m crossing the conventional “reflected glory” explanation off right away, for no other reason than because it’s just too easy. However, the profusion of intelligent tactical analysis on the web during this World Cup has fueled my desire to see a talented side firing on all cylinders. There is something viscerally pleasing about watching this German team grab their opponents by the throat and execute a near-perfect 90-minute thrashing. It comes from the same place that makes me love Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona, who can put six goals past a team like Real Madrid, seemingly without being too bothered by the whole ordeal. It’s like that moment in a James Bond film where the hero does something brilliant and evades certain peril without ever mussing the part in his hair.
I even have to admit that I like a good dynasty every once in a while. How could you not enjoy a team like Manchester United in the late nineties/early naughties? Don’t answer that, I know how: because they always won everything. But didn’t they do it the right way? So many of those players (Beckham, Butt, Giggs, Scholes, the Nevilles) were brought through United’s academy. It’s comparable to when the New York Yankees won the 1996 World Series on the strength of players that came through their farm system: Jeter, Posada, Rivera, Bernie Williams, et al. Well, that’s Germany in this World Cup. That’s Guardiola’s Barcelona. And that’s what I like to see. Besides, if we get any more shocks in this World Cup, I’m liable to have a heart attack.
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