(Author’s note: today is PPFA’s 500th post! Thanks for reading a few along the way. Among them was a World Cup “Round of 16” post four years ago. Here’s another.)
One of the great things about sports is that it allows countries to compete against each other without resorting to annoying things like killing and maiming. (Well, usually.) The quadrennial World Cup is the highest profile example of the soccer pitch becoming a proxy battlefield to help exercise old demons.
On Saturday, after group play is complete, the 2022 World Cup will start its nerve-racking, nail-biting, penalty-kicking, single-elimination phase, so I thought I’d unearth some historical animosity, no matter how obscure, between the teams pitted against each other in the first round of the tournament’s knockout portion.
I’ll go in chronological order of the games. Today is Part I: the Saturday and Sunday matchups. We don’t know who’s competing in Monday and Tuesday’s Round of 16 matches until groups E through H finish their matches over the next two days, so I’ll save those for this weekend. That will be Part II.
As you watch these Round of 16 games, keep in mind that while making the quarterfinals would be nice for the teams and their countries, the players are actually motivated by the following…
(All times Eastern Standard)
Game 1–Saturday, 10:00 AM
Netherlands vs. The United States of America!
You’d think these two NATO allies have a totally harmonious history, and at first glance it appears a frustratingly long and symbiotic relationship. In fact, back in 1982, President Reagan noted to the Dutch Queen Beatrix that “The bonds between our two peoples represent the longest unbroken, peaceful relationship that we have had with any other nation.” What our 40th President failed to recognize, however, is that the animosity between our two peoples is actually longer and deeper than the Hudson River.
Let me take you back, if I may, to the early twentieth century. Two years after the English put down roots in Jamestown in 1607, the Dutch hired navigator Henry Hudson to look around a few hundred miles north of Virginia. (In the process, he scoped out the river that would one day be named after him.) The Dutch West India Company soon sent over to the area some settlers and the colony of New Netherland was born, with the bustling seaport of New Amsterdam on Manhattan island as its trading hub and capital.
Meanwhile, English colonists continued to spread out to the south, first in Virginia and then in Maryland. In time, new English settlers arrived to the northeast in Plymouth and surrounding areas, a region that became known as “New England.” The Dutch colony had become trapped between these rapidly growing English settlements.
The rising maritime power back in London thought this Dutch wedge between its colonies was rather irritating, and so in 1664 King Charles II instructed his brother James, the Duke of York, to do something about it. In August, four powerful English frigates, in a mission coordinated by the Duke, sailed into the harbor and demanded the surrender of an outgunned and ultimately compliant New Amsterdam. The newly English colony was renamed New York after the man who organized the mission.
Although many Dutch remained (or, as I prefer to describe them, much Dutch), they soon became part of a melting pot of peoples as American colonists swallowed up the area. Most of the Dutch culture in America has been lost, replaced by things like federal-style buildings, golf courses, and Kentuckies Fried Chicken.
On Saturday, will the Netherlands get its revenge over the people that displaced them from North America? Or will the Americans defend their territory from the other side of the world?
We’ll settle it on the pitch. (I believe that we will win.)
Game 2–Saturday, 2:00 PM
Argentina vs. Australia
I know what you’re thinking. “Two southern hemisphere nine-lettered countries that start and end with the letter “A”? Surely their histories are heavily intertwined!”
That was really silly of you, actually. Why would you even think that? In reality, the two don’t have much of a history with each other, aside from an awkward couple months in 1982.
From April to June in that year, Argentina and the United Kingdom engaged in the ten-week Falklands War. Although the sun had already set on the British Empire, Britain’s leadership of the less aggressive “Commonwealth of Nations” was, and still is, ongoing. Included in the Commonwealth is the nation of Australia, and so when the United Kingdom gets into minor scrapes, Australia is at least clapping from 10,000 miles away and saying things like, “Yeah, you get ’em!”
When it came time for the UK to take back the Falkland Islands from an overly hyper Argentine junta, the British naturally expected some backing from its Commonwealth. For example, New Zealand, not yet distracted by Peter Jackson’s production of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, was almost giddy in its support. It expelled the Argentine ambassador. Its Prime Minister Robert Muldoon was vocal in his opposition to the Argentine government and in his support of the Falkland Islanders. New Zealand offered the HMNZS Canterbury to take the place of any British naval vessel patrolling in the world that could then be made available for the conflict. British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher praised their friends, gushing, “The New Zealand Government and people have been absolutely magnificent in their support of this country.”
It was somewhere around this time that Australia realized it was getting thoroughly embarrassed by its counterpart across the Tasman Sea, so it had better do more than shake some pom poms. The best it could muster was an offer to not follow through with the contracted purchase of an aircraft carrier, the HMS Invincible, so that the British could keep it for the war. Britain accepted the offer, likely with some version of “Thanks?,” and that was that.
Desperate for bulletin board material, however, I wouldn’t be surprised if Argentine coach Lionel Scaloni huddles up Messi and Co. with a stirring speech about that time Australia offered not to buy a boat.
Game 3–Sunday, 10:00 AM
France vs. Poland
The year was 1940, the month was May, and the bloodiest conflict in world history was just getting started. After Germany invaded Poland in September of 1939, Poland’s strongest allies, the United Kingdom and France, responded by declaring war on Germany, and the Second World War began.
But just because the UK and France declared war did not mean they fought it. In what was called the “Phony War,” the British and French made almost no military response other than preparation. This fecklessness was seen as part of a broader “Western betrayal.” As the Germans pushed into Poland from its west, the Soviets squeezed from the east. Poland was wiped off the map in about five weeks, not to return until after the war.
Well guess who has a chance to avenge this betrayal? Poland, that’s who! Go Poles! (In truth, everyone except for France’s supporters should be rooting for Poland here, as France is really, really good, perhaps second only to Brazil. Knocking out the French makes this a lot easier for everyone else. So I say again… Go Poles!)
Game 4–Sunday, 2:00 PM
England vs. Senegal
There’s no chance England has any history with an African nation, right? Wait, it did?! Now I’ve seen everything!
Senegal was actually a French colony, not an English one, for most of its modern history. France established Saint-Louis, Senegal in 1659, and for the next century they used the area as a root of their lucrative slave trade.
In the 1750s, the French and British Empires squared off in the Seven Years’ War, and British leadership determined that taking Senegal would hurt the French economy. So in April of 1758, the British conquest of Senegal began. By May, it was complete. (It wasn’t the last time Britain made quick work of an African resistance. In fact, I once wrote about the 38-minute Anglo-Zanzibar War of 1896.)
Will Sunday afternoon’s match once again see an overwhelming English effort wear down an African defense? Or will the Senegalese finally get their long awaited revenge? Tune in to find out.
That’s it for Part I! I’ll get you Part II when we know the other half of the Round of 16. Enjoy the matches!
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