Chi! Chi! Chi !!!
I must say, there is something wrong with this current World Cup of Soccer being held in Russia.
Where is the Chilean team, La Roja, and the Chi.., Chi…, Chi…, …le, …le, …le chant that goes along? Well, this team which rides on their star forward Alexis Sanchez, goalkeeper Claudio Bravo and the supporting cast of journeymen tough guys like Arturo Vidal and Gary Medel, sadly did not qualify for this tourney. After winning the America’s Cup twice in a row, and qualifying in the last two World Cup competitions, a series of missteps, key player absences in run-up matches, and maybe a bit of complacency left Chile out.
On top of Chile’s no-show, neither team I have felt obliged in the past to follow and support, the US (out of a waning nationalism) and Italy (having been born with some Italian DNA), qualified for this World Cup either. So when the whole thing began in Moscow with a predictable win by the Russian team over Saudi Arabia (what? How did they get in?), I was already not following very closely.
It is maybe fair to note that I have never been much of a soccer fan, but this can be explained. When I first went to Chile as a Peace Corps volunteer now fifty years ago, I was quickly made aware that soccer was an important element of Chilean culture, and to fit in I would have to get immersed in the sport; what better way than to attend a double header of games one hot afternoon in the cement national stadium in Santiago. Along with my buddies Chuck and Lee, we got to the stadium early to make sure we were in our seats, but also to make sure we had a couple of beers and cheese empanadas before the excitement of the matches began.
About five hours later we dragged our sweaty, tired bodies out into the street and took a crowded bus home. After too many beers, hours of burning sun, fans screaming obscenities at the players, coaches, the government, police, each other and maybe even us, the outing was thankfully finally over. But the worst of it all was that the two matches had both ended in scoreless ties: 0-0, and 0-0! No goals. I couldn’t believe it, and had not really recovered from this torture until four decades later with Chile’s La Roja success in the last two Americas Cups.
World Cup soccer is actually a wonderful spectacle, so being now in blissful retirement, I can take the time to watch, and I admit I can bring myself to get emotionally involved. But without Chile, the US and Italy in the mix, who could I follow and cheer on? Certainly I could support the Latin Americans that made the cut: Peru, Uruguay, Costa Rica, Brazil, Mexico, Panama, and Colombia. And, I generally like Spain and Portugal because of very pleasant travels through each and an affinity for their cuisine, especially their wine. Then there was Nigeria, where a new found affinity and loyalty has developed through the fortunate acquisition of a son-in-law. Any required loyalty to Germany, via the other son-in-law was easily dispensed with when they, the reigning World Cup champions, were eliminated earlier.
So, with no serious commitment to any of them I began watching some of the matches, even some I had to awake at 4 AM to watch while visiting my daughter and her family in California. By the time we got to the Final 16 bracket that began on July 6, Costa Rica was out, and so was Panama; Nigeria too. Pretty soon it was down to the Semifinals; France vs. Belgium, and England vs. Croatia. I had no reason whatsoever to cheer for France, England, or Belgium. I have little feeling for those teams, reserving my remaining European affinity to Spain and Portugal (recall, Italy was never in it).
I hadn’t thought much about Croatia, in fact, had hardly noticed they were still in it. But then when they beat England in dramatic style, and they clearly earned the right to meet France in the Finals just three days from now, it finally dawned on me. Croatia must be my team. Why hadn’t this occurred to me before? We visited Croatia last year, and loved it. Their wonderfully picturesque coastal cities and towns, their seafood based cuisine, the crisp, fruity wines, and most of all, smiling faces (note: we did not visit Serbia). And it makes sense that support for the Croatian team could fill in at least temporarily for my support for Chile now forcibly on hold. And it makes even more sense as I think about it. Chile is linked with Croatia through the early settlement of Yugoslavs in the extreme south of Chile where they were traders and sheep farmers, and in the extreme north where they were involved in mining. One of Chile’s present day leading investors and bankers is Croatian, last name Luksic. Croatian last names abound in important public and private positions in Chile.
As I watched Croatia’s hard earned victory over England, my ears began to ring with the alliteration of the player’s names as they brought the ball down the field: Modric, Rakitic, Mandzukic, Pericic, Rebic, and goalkeeper Subasic. You know, it almost rang like the Chi… Chi…Chi… I was missing with the absence of the Chilean La Roja from this World Cup. So I have found my team, just in time for the final match on Sunday.
…ic, …ic, …ic!!! …ic, …ic, …ic!!!
Posted in Leesburg, Virginia, on July 12, 2018.