Sports

If you like your soccer relationships complicated, then support Belgium during this World Cup

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REUTERS/Dominic Ebenbichler

A Belgium fan shouts before the 2014 World Cup Group H soccer match between Belgium and Algeria at the Mineirao stadium in Belo Horizonte

I want to love soccer. Really, I do.

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Especially at World Cup time, when many of my colleagues in the newsroom sport their team colors and cheer in foreign languages. Monday, I learned how to say "Go Bosnia-Herzegovina!" in Bosnian.

But to be honest, I feel like I'm the grumpy old man in the corner, muttering about ties being "un-American." I mean, games that end 0-0, after 90-plus minutes? C'mon.

I want to like soccer a bit more, though. So I've been watching matches, reading up, studying offside traps the way I would, say, the infield fly rule in baseball.

And now I've reached that point where, as my grandfather would've said, I know just enough to be dangerous.

Time to choose a team.

The US is a natural choice, but frankly that's a bit like being a Chicago Cubs fan. When you get to the business end of the season, the playoffs, you'll want a back-up "favorite."

And friends, I've made my choice for this World Cup: Belgium.

Why?

Excellent question. For starters, I like the Belgian national anthem, which you can sing in three official languages: Dutch, French or German.

Same with the team's nickname, The Red Devils. Or, de Rode Duivels (Dutch), les Diables Rouges (French), or die Roten Teufel (German). Go on, it just trips off the tongue no matter which you choose.

Yeah, this is a team for those of you who like your relationships, not to mention your politics, complicated.

I know because I lived in Belgium for a few years, and most of that time (more than 500 days,) the country was without a government while politicians wrangled.

Simply put — there's a pesky divide between the Dutch-speaking North, known as Flanders, and the French-speaking south, called Wallonia.

There's ongoing talk, even in soccer circles, of splitting this already tiny country into even tinier bits. But for now, Belgium and the Red Devils remain whole.

As a team, they deftly mix French-speakers with Dutch last names, and Dutch-speakers with French last names.

Some of the best players are the sons of immigrants from Africa.

And this makes the The Red Devils a microcosm of Belgium itself.

And they've got personality.

Their top striker, Romelu Lukaku, raps. The team's other offensive powerhouse, Eden Hazard, likes to golf. Neither one of them should give up their day jobs, but still, there's style there.

At the World Cup, some say this Belgian team is the tournament dark horse, that this is a new "Golden Generation" of Belgian soccer.

For fans like me, there's also this: when you watch, you can go native by eating fries with mayonnaise and drinking the best beer on earth. Then have some chocolate for dessert.

My friends in Belgium are torn.

No, seriously. They're once again without a government after the last round of elections.

Some see the World Cup hype around the Red Devils as so much bread and circus. "They have the power to make people forget" the real problems facing the country, says one friend.

But another friend notes, "The Red Devils are more of less the only thing that works between the Flemish and Walloons in this country. They are a real symbol of union."

With that in mind, I went looking to buy an official Belgium soccer jersey here in Boston last weekend.

The "World Soccer Shop" had just about every other World Cup team jersey, except Belgium.

I asked the salesperson: "You've got Algeria, but not Belgium?"

She looked at me blankly, and asked: "What's Belgium?"

It remains an excellent question.

Go Red Devils.

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