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.
Today, the 2022 World Cup starts 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.
On Thursday I published Part I, which had the Saturday and Sunday matchups (Netherlands vs. USA, Argentina vs. Australia, France vs. Poland, and England vs. Senegal). Today is Part II, which covers the four Monday and Tuesday matches.
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 5–Monday, 10:00 AM
Japan vs. Croatia
Oh come on. It’s as if they saw that I committed myself to writing these summaries of historical animosity between nations and then found two countries on opposite sides of the world, one of which was only created in the Nineties. The Nineteen Nineties! Jerks.
In their three-decade relationship from 5800 miles apart, all has been well one hundred percent of the time. At least, that’s what it appears. But, if you ask me, the Croatians might be holding in a silent grudge. Here is the beautiful embassy in Zagreb where Japanese diplomats in Croatia get to go work every day:
Gorgeous, right? Just a gorgeous, clean, well-maintained piece of corner architecture.
So what does the Croatian embassy in Tokyo look like? Like this.
Is this just a random dirty building? Are those weeds growing out of those steps? Is that a Japanese woman encouraging her dog to defecate in front of Croatia’s extension of their sovereign soil?
This will not stand. On Monday morning, watch for the Croats to come out hard in their attempt to redeem this injustice.
Game 6–Monday, 2:00 PM
Brazil vs. South Korea
Everyone loves Brazilians. They might be the only group with a 100% approval rating, with the possible exception of whatever we call people from Greenland. (Since I’m proudly half-Brazilian, does that mean I have 50% approval? I’ll take it! I mean, it’s better than Biden.)
South Korea loved Brazil so much that the two government agreed to export South Korean’s most precious commodity, South Koreans, to Brazil. In 1962, thanks to a law passed to ease South Korean unemployment, a long and mass emigration began taking place from the Korean peninsula southeast across the Pacific to South America. The Brazilian government happily accepted them with an understanding the Korean immigrants could develop farmland rural Brazil, of which there was a lot.
Sensing Brazil’s desperation, clever Koreans agreed to the move, but once through the ports of entry, most did no go to the countryside and instead went to the cities to compete with Brazil’s native garment peddlers. That’s what the Brazilians call “Não cool.”
But you don’t have to take my word for it. Watch what the elegant Seleção Canarinho does to the South Korean squad on Monday afternoon. The final score will tell you all you need to know about how Brazilians feel about what went down 60 years ago.
Game 7–Tuesday, 10:00 AM
Morocco vs. Spain
Can the UK give the winner Gibraltar?
The relationship between Morocco and Spain, as you can imagine, goes back far. At the narrowest gap, the two countries are separated by only eight miles of swirled up Atlantic and Mediterranean water.
Before Spain was Spain and Morocco was Morocco, the Umayyad caliphate invaded Visigothic Iberia from North Africa in the early eighth century, ultimate conquering deep into southwest Europe until Charles Martel (the 13th most influential figure in Western history) turned them back at Tours in 732. Charles’s grandson Charlemagne (the 22nd most influential figure in Western history) began the process of the reconquista, where Catholic leadership slowly reconquered Muslim Iberia in the name of Christianity, not finishing until the late 1400s. Needless to say, the initial invasion and the seven-century counterattack produced some animosity on both sides of the Gibraltar Strait.
Of the 530 years since the reconquista‘s completion, the relationship between the two regions has been rough for about 510 of them, with suspended diplomatic relations as recently as 2002. Of all this acrimony, I’d like to highlight an event from 1612, when Spanish pirates (sorry, “privateers”), during the transport of a few thousand precious manuscripts belonging to Morocco Sultan Zidan Abu Maali, stole and transferred them to Spain’s royal government. Moroccans spent the next four centuries politely and not-so-politely asking for the documents’ repatriation until finally, in 2009, the Spanish government assented to microfilm scans of the documents, though they still refused to part with the originals, all of which can still be found at El Escorial, a royal residence outside of Madrid.
Now, I could spend a few more paragraphs talking about the Hispano-Moroccan War (1859-1860) or the period during the first half of the twentieth century when Spain controlled part of Morocco as a protectorate, but that’s all patatas pequeñas. Spain still has Sultan Zidan’s manuscripts, and Morocco just won Group F (over Croatia and Belgium no less!) for the opportunity to avenge him.
Game 8–Tuesday, 2:00 PM
Portugal vs. Switzerland
I need to find beef between Switzerland and someone? Man oh man. They’ve given me infant Croatia, gregarious Brazil, and now the neutralist country in the history of neutrality. They did not make it easy on me. I’m starting to think FIFA is bad.
Could I write about these two peoples being on opposite sides of the War of the Second Coalition? I could. Am I going to? I am not. I’ve scoured the internet for any direct engagement or rivalry between the two sides, and as far as I can tell one does not exist. What am I going to do? Make another embassy joke? Those are so played out.
So let’s just say that on Tuesday afternoon, the rivalry between Portugal and Switzerland… BEGINS!
Okay that’s it. Enjoy the Round of 16, everyone! (Now that you know what’s REALLY on the line.)
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