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Rush's niece shows her support for France - photo by MIssi Kovachev

Is owning an article of clothing with a team’s insignia a good enough reason to cheer for them?

I recently wrote about how it might be a good idea to transfer one’s soccer allegiance to the hometown Fort Worth Vaqueros, given that they had qualified for their playoffs. Even as Team USA was conspicuously absent in Russia this World Cup, the Vaqueros were traveling to Laredo where their conference’s top seed unfortunately eliminated them.

So with soccer still left to play on the other side of the world, what was one to do? I had actually struggled with choosing a side to support since the tournament began.

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My niece had a shirt for the French team, plus she studies French in high school and is a bit of a Francophile. So, naturally, she picked France as her team. It was as good a reason as any. I think it’s ok to root for a team because, all other things being equal, you own something bearing their logo. I got a Leeds United shirt as a present once. I’ve never been to Leeds, but if I happened to be in a pub and second-tier English soccer showed up on the telly, I’d probably pull for them if they were involved.

I did own an England shirt from a trip over there, and I have friends who live in the UK, so the Three Lions would have made a reasonable choice for my allegiance. I’m a Liverpool supporter, so I also tend to favor squads with Reds on them. Seven nations had at least one Liverpool man on the roster, though, so that didn’t help as much. Club loyalties did help me choose whom to root against, however. I wished failure on Uruguay because of the presence of the disgraced (at least in the eyes of a Liverpudlian) Luis Suarez. La Celeste exited in the quarters, defeated 2-0 by France. I was also pleased to see Spain dismissed by the low-ranked hosts in the round of 16. It was nothing against Spaniards in general, but I did not want to see Sergio Ramos come out on top after his questionable aggression knocked Mo Saleh out of the Champions League final.

Unfortunately, if one wanted to select sides to cheer against, the tournament gave you lots of options. Soccer still has its demons. In fact, there were enough controversies associated with this World Cup to justify a dedicated Wikipedia page, and even it doesn’t quite get all of them.

It started even before the tournament was played. Potential FIFA corruption hangs over any big international soccer event. The governing body likely avoided hints of impropriety in awarding the 2026 World Cup to a joint North American bid. It was an easily justifiable decision, but it served to underscore the controversy associated with the recent choices of Russia and Qatar as hosts.

Swiss players of Albanian descent provoked Serbian supporters with hand gestures, and the Serbian federation got fined for their own fans’ behavior as well. I reconsidered my allegiance to Liverpool defender Dejan Lovren of Croatia after reading about a questionable choice of celebratory songs on his part.

One of the most popular memes to come out of the tournament involved one of the world’s best players. But it had nothing to do with spectacular goal-scoring or inspired defending. It had to do with another of the sport’s black eyes: flopping. The internet mocked Brazilian star Neymar incessantly for reacting demonstratively to on-pitch transgressions against him. Embellishing one’s injury has a long and inglorious tradition in soccer, and the game could have done without high-profile reinforcement. It definitely didn’t make me want Brazil to advance.

For sure there were many things that reminded me what I love about association football. There were beautiful goals – a Cristiano Ronaldo free kick especially sticks out in my mind. There was genuine emotion from players and fans and some crucial games that were tightly contested right to the end. We even had upsets. But there was a lot of misconduct, too.

This competition was (hopefully) unique in that my home team, the USA, didn’t qualify. As I was choosing whom to support, it was often not easy. When so many teams and players disqualify themselves from one’s allegiance, a person is really left with a Seinfeldian choice: just root for the clothes.

 

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