by Jeff Kaiser
AMMAN — Despite the fact that Jordan has never qualified for a World Cup, football fever here in Amman is inescapable. Flags adorn storefronts, cafés, and cars, and children peddle shirts, flags, and colorful, cat-in-the-hat-esque hats in the streets. But with the only Arab country in the competition (Algeria, if you can even call them Arab—more later) now eliminated, who do the Jordanians support?
Everyone likes a winner, so the obvious and easy choices are Brazil, Argentina, and Italy, to name just a few. And from my informal survey of cab drivers and shopkeepers, there seems to be strong and equally divided support for these three. A visible contingent is cheering for Germany and a handful have mentioned Spain. The USA has no local supporters, maybe unsurprisingly, and, hard as I searched, I failed to find anything — a shirt, flag, hat — bearing our colors. So, without a Jordanian team, how does one make a decision? Again, from my not-very-scientific research, it seems to be largely arbitrary. My only evidence? No one seems to have an answer when I ask, “why?”
Regardless, showing support for a team makes a statement and is the cause of frequent friendly but vociferous rivalries. My own experience:
Before coming to Jordan I wasn’t exactly the biggest soccer fan. But I knew that the World Cup was a big deal in the rest of the world and tried to get in the mindset. I bought a book (Soccernomics) and decided to support Brazil (in addition to the US, of course), after reading in the aforementioned book that they effectively dominate. One afternoon I went to meet a friend for dinner at a small, local restaurant before a Brazil game. I was certainly not the only yellow shirt in the place, but as soon as the waiter came over to the table he jokingly made an angry gesture and said, “Brazil no good. Italia good. Italia best!” Today I went back to the restaurant for lunch, and the same waiter spotted me as I walked in (without my Brazil shirt). Immediately he came up and said again, “Brazil no good! Italia, I love!” Brazil beat Côte d’Ivoire that night 3-1, and mini riots broke out in the street of the upscale neighborhood where I had been watching, stalling my taxi as I tried to head home.
So what about Algeria? Before elimination today there was certainly some local support for the Arab world’s only representative. But much of the regional commentary blew this out of proportion. A friend told me that, in fact, during an Algeria match, many locals were scoffing at the announcer’s notion that Algeria was playing “for all Arabs” and that they represented the best of the Arab world. Oddly enough, after the match, when interviewed by the Al-Jazeera crew, the players had to speak through translation because they knew only French…
I guess when you can’t support your own team, the best bet is to invest (at least mentally) in a team less likely to let you down. Why not potentially give yourself a reason to celebrate?