ANGST LEVEL 1:NEXT-TO-NIL
SERBIA AND MONTENEGRO
**UNFLAPPABLEWorld Cup fans aren't plentiful, but they do exist. Some supporters arethrilled merely that their side has reached Germany--the prime minister ofTRINIDAD AND TOBAGO declared a national holiday after the Soca Warriorsclinched their first Cup berth--while others avoid stress by resigningthemselves to defeat. For instance, few will sweat the outcome in SERBIA ANDMONTENEGRO, where, as travel writer Rebecca West pointed out, the"acceptance of tragedy ... is the basis of Slav life." Strangely,though, the most carefree scene might be in BRAZIL, where any pressure thatcomes with being the overwhelming favorite is offset by the fans' unbridledenthusiasm for the game and for life. While soccer coaches traditionally ponderways to keep their players focused before games (read: away from their wives),Brazil's Carlos Alberto Parreira says, "Sex is a good thing. It makes theplayers relaxed." For soccer fans (and players) it just feels good to beBrazilian.
June 4, 2006
ANGST LEVEL 2:WHATEVER
* A SIGN that thebeautiful game is catching on in the U.S.: The World Cup roster was unveiledlive on SportsCenter. A sign that soccer still has a way to go: ESPN scheduledthe announcement for 30 minutes into the show, after, among other things, asegment on John Daly's gambling. As in several other countries wherequalification for the Cup is fairly common but victories are rare, the Americanfans' generally ho-hum attitude makes the hard-core boosters from Sam's Armylook like raving lunatics. If the home side wins, great. If not, no one isgoing to burn a car in the street, as happened in Moscow after a Russian lossin the 2002 Cup. While SAUDI ARABIA will be appearing in its fourth straightCup, its football federation was so worried about a lack of support that itoffered free tickets to Saudi matches in Germany. Indeed, fans who logged on toFIFA's ticket sales site in February had one choice: Out of 64 total Cup games,only Saudi Arabia's June 19 match against UKRAINE had seats available.
ANGST LEVEL 3:DELUSIONAL
**MOST FANS arerealistic enough to know their team isn't likely to lift the World Cup trophy.Some, however, refuse to accept the inevitable and go so far as to believe thatoutside forces can influence their team's fate. ECUADOR has sent a shaman tocleanse every venue in Germany. Some in TOGO unabashedly turned to voodoo fortheir team's make-or-break qualifier against Congo; one practitioner burned amixture of 41 herbs, put it in a hyena skin and wrapped the concoction around awooden figurine. An official with the IRAN football federation has accusedMEXICO of relying on voodoo in advance of their June 11 game, then said thatIran "already planned appropriate measures against such tricks andgenerally believes that real believers cannot be affected by such magic. And asthe Iranian team has a deep religious belief, it will resist like anunconquerable castle." And fans in CROATIA accused JAPAN of sendingdocumentary filmmakers to spy on their team.
ANGST LEVEL 4:WORLD WEARY
* THE LONGER someteams last in the tournament, the longer their fans are distracted from moredire matters at home. After the Elephants of the war-torn IVORY COAST clinchedtheir Cup berth, striker Didier Drogba went on TV and vowed that the win would"bring peace back to our country." He then urged, "Put down theguns! Let's reconcile!" (The team comprises players from the rebel Northand the army-controlled South.) In ANGOLA, where a 27-year civil war ended justfour years ago and the average life expectancy is 39, players see thetournament as a chance to put their nation in a positive light. "We want toshow off our football," says Fabrice Akwa, the team's captain. "We alsowant to show there is more to Angola than just war and oil." In GHANA thedirector of education and sports believes that success in Germany is all thatcan unite his nation, which has more than 75 ethnic groups. "If ever therewas a need for Ghanaians to rally behind a common sporting cause," he said,"the time is now."
ANGST LEVEL 5:OUT OF CONTROL
**IN THENETHERLANDS the World Cup is such a big deal that fans will skip work to watchit, though not such a big deal that businesses are willing to suffer as aresult. Because ill Dutch workers must be paid--and because sick days spiked20% during the 2004 European championships--an insurance company has offered tocover the losses employers suffer when their workers play hooky. That kind offiscal prudence would be welcome in AUSTRALIA, where Cup craziness is juststarting to take hold. The piece of turf from which John Aloisi converted thepenalty in Sydney last fall, giving the Socceroos a spot in just their secondCup, was encased in glass and will be auctioned off. It's expected to fetch$75,000. Another nation in which fanaticism is burgeoning is POLAND. Howseriously are hooligans there taking the tournament? They've attempted toorganize a league with scheduled brawls against thugs from other countries.
ANGST LEVEL 6:UTTER DESPAIR
**FINALLY THEREare the fans who are resigned to misery. In GERMANY a recent survey revealedthat only 7% of respondents think the hosts will win. (Even fewer seeminterested in picking up a keepsake: The company that produced Goleo, the Cup'sleonine mascot, had to file for bankruptcy after poor sales.) SPAIN, aperennial power with a long history of underachieving, adopted its supporters'defeatist attitude by booking its players into a hotel where the most expensiveroom goes for 99 euros a night. (Motel Seis, anyone?) But no one traffics indread like the folks in ENGLAND, who did their best to look past the upcomingtournament by obsessing over the search for a coach who would lead the teamafter it. Once a replacement for Sven-Goran Eriksson was found, it was back tofretting over '06, so one fan, Paul Hucker, did the only natural thing: Hebought a ¬£100 insurance policy that pays him a million if he sufferspsychological trauma because of England's elimination. Enjoy!