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2004-06-24

Squaring the football 

Voters have the right to base their decisions on shallow reasoning. Football fans have the right to support teams on shallow prejudices. But can I explain my football preferences rationally?

Germany was eliminated from the European championships yesterday. There are few supporters of German football teams in Austria. Here is a quick overview of selected Austrian blog coverage: Godany is happy the Germans are out [DE]; TH says if you want to see hatred, watch a German football match in an Austrian pub [DE]; Marie Ringler reports on the cheers of an FPÖ politician for a German goal [DE] during a meeting of the city council; Peter Pilz wonders why he is thrilled when Germany loses [DE].

OK, confession time: I was also pleased with yesterday's result, and yes, I did watch the game on TV (the Netherlands match was running on another channel, but I saw only a few minutes of it.*). As a lame conciliatory note to start with, in the second half the Germans certainly deserved to score one or two goals, they had a lot of bad luck then.

A comparison: I hoped Italy would make it (they have also been eliminated narrowly). The Italy game was highly dramatic and therefore entertaining, quite independent of the sportive aspects, of which I understand not all that much. I like the drama such a game can be, with all the stories and history around it. And usually my sympathies are with the side that is just about to lose - in this case Italy.

A German match watched from my observation point is also a dense yarn. There was a time when Germany had an awesome team. They would always win unless their opponents were lucky, or if Maradona was involved. This image of a near-invincible Germany, so in contrast with the loss-bound Austrians - who one could still take half-serious back then, we're talking 80's -, was hard to digest. So much cultural proximity, so little equality on the world stage. If only, for once, the Germans would lose. (Perceptions in the rest of the world must have been different, something like 'Oh, that economic powerhouse pulling ahead of the rest of the pack even in football')

Eventually German teams started to lose in the second half of the 90's, and there was an initial wave of relief around the globe. Since then the German team has been struggling with a lack of world-class talent, I believe. Rock bottom were the European championships in 2000. Since then, the German team has recovered a bit, but they still lack really impressive players, and so I guess I feel they do not deserve a big success at championships. Their second place at the last World Cup looked like an outlier - and that hypothesis was confirmed yesterday, justice re-established for now.

Which means that, now I'm aware of this overwhelmingly rational explation, I should follow the progress of the German team at the next World Cup with empathy, to see how the new generation of young talented players is shaping up. I really should.

*I also tried to watch the news on the sickening nomination of a government party soldier as president of the control authority [DE] that should check the government, but at least at the 10pm news state TV was completely silent about this. Hello Berlusconi.


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