I had hopes of blogging during my World Cup visit to Germany a week-and-a-half ago, but the demands of looking after a seven-year-old on the road, plus the fact that I forgot my laptop and thus had to share computer time with a 13-year-old in possession of gaming software, got in the way of that. And then I got sick after my return.
So it’s now a little late to weigh in on the U.S.-Italy match in Kaiserslautern, except to say this. Much has been made of the fact that the U.S. fans outshouted the Italian ones, and that this cheering advantage may have played a role in the result (it certainly seemed to reflect the referee’s calls over the last 20-30 minutes of the game). This was a great thing, one of the few bright spots of this World Cup for the U.S. But it wasn’t because there were more dyed-in-the-wool U.S. supporters on hand than Italian ones. It was because the neutrals — the Germans, that is — turned on the ref and the diving Italians toward the end of the first half.
The Germans with tickets to the World Cup matches not featuring their country’s team have endearingly adopted a policy of rooting for the underdogs, and in particular for the teams least likely to bring tens of thousands of supporters. At the Netherlands-Ivory Coast match we attended, lots of the Germans had gone so far as to buy Ivory Coast shirts. With U.S.-Italy, things were of course more complicated. We were the soccer underdog, but are the overdog in so many other ways that the Germans weren’t going to be comfortable dressing up in red-white-and-blue. Some, like the fellow pictured here, split the difference. Others dressed as disinterested civilians.
But once the game got going, and the Italian team played as its wont (defensively, cynically, etc.), sentiment shifted toward the Americans. We were sitting in a section that seemed to be filled mostly with locals, supporters of the team that usually occupies the stadium, FC Kaiserslautern. And at some point around the middle of the game, they all began chanting “U-S-A! U-S-A!” They did get bored with that after a while, and began chanting “Deutschland!” and singing “Wir fahren nach Berlin” (We’re going to Berlin) instead. But they kept cheering U.S. attacks and whistling derisively at the Italians.
It may not be much to be able to claim that your country’s soccer team is more beloved (outside of Italy) than Italy’s is. But these days we Americans ought to take whatever we can get.