For a novice or casual soccer fan, what advice would you give for following the World Cup through the initial group stages and into the knock out round? Is it best to concentrate on one group or watch the tournament as a whole?
It’s obviously a lot to watch three games straight for two weeks, so the group stage can be a lot to take in – especially since some games will be starting early in the morning for us. That said, the early games are often really interesting match-ups, and you can see unfamiliar teams from smaller nations, for whom this is often the height of the tournament. This is also when the plots of the World Cup begin to unfold, like the beginning chapters of a great novel. Following one group with teams that interest you is obviously a great way to go, since then you get a sense of how things are playing out, but I’d also pick interesting match-ups.
Once you get to the knock-out rounds, I’d watch as much as you can. The Round of 16 and Quarter-Final games are often the best of the tournament in terms of drama and intensity. Teams go all out, because everything is on the line, but there are enough unusual teams to make for interesting match-ups. And there are always one or two dramatic surprises during that phase.
As I write about in the final chapter of my book The Language of the Game
he World Cup is really an invitation to participate, whether you are a die-hard fan or just tuning in for the first time, and in the end it is about connecting your own personal story to that of players and teams who are on the biggest stage on the planet.
The United States did not qualify for this year's World Cup. Can you suggest a few other teams that would be fun to follow? Do you have a dark horse team that might be poised to pull a few upsets?
Most people in the world watch the way U.S. fans will this year, unable to root for their national team and so picking others. I always suggest people watch enough teams early on to fall in love with one, with the way they play, with particular players. You might have a player you follow in the professional game that you like, and want to see how they do on the international stage. I personally will be rooting for Belgium (where I was born), France and Senegal. These are all electrifying teams with great talent. The French and Belgian teams represent a great diversity in terms of the backgrounds of their players, with many born of immigrant parents, and are important symbols in their countries for that reason. And Senegal is a really fun team to watch, and one of the African teams that has gone the farthest in the World Cup (in 2002), so there are high hopes for them. I also like rooting for smaller teams: Costa Rica always is surprisingly strong, and Iceland is in there this year for the first time and hard not to love, if only for the great “Huth!” chant their fans have spread.
Russia is in the center of the news for many, many reasons. How do you think they will do as a host country?
It is difficult to say. I think the basic infrastructure seems well in place, though it is a very large country and the travel from city to city will be a bit complicated for fans following particular teams. There are looming questions about security and about the political situation, of course. The eyes of the world will be on Russia, so it may be a moment for political demonstrations on the part of the opposition. Hopefully, journalists covering the tournament will be attuned to what is going on among fans and visitors. If there are any incidents – fighting between fans, attacks against visitors, racist chants in the stadium – then that will be the test of the hosts to see how they react.
With controversy surrounding FIFA and the 2022 Qatar World Cup, how have the politics of soccer affected your enjoyment of the game?
I see soccer as always inherently political. (My class at Duke is called “Soccer Politics” and my twitter handle is @soccerpolitics!). There is a huge amount of corruption in the game, which has long been used by governments and corporate interests to further their own agendas, often quite unsavory ones. The game is also that, along with the joy and beauty it creates. Soccer mirrors society in so many ways, and that is to me what is so fascinating about it. It can be many different things, and the key for us as fans is to be aware of what is being done in soccer’s name, and in ours, and articulate our own different vision of how we want the sport to be run as loudly and convincingly as we can.
Do you have a favorite wine, beer, or cocktail? Bonus points awarded if it pairs well with watching World Cup soccer before noon!
I’ll have watched three games before the V&V Happy Hour, including Spain vs. Portugal, and I’ll almost certainly drink a beer during that one. So by the evening, I’ll be ready for a nice glass of prosecco or champagne. Afterwards, I’ll likely go for my favorite cocktail, a Dark & Stormy. It will be a big day!
WE HOPE YOU'LL JOIN US ON THE 15TH TO VISIT WITH OUR SPECIAL GUEST LAURENT AND ENJOY A DRINK ON THE HOUSE!