Dispensing with the customary platitudes that swirl around the World Cup — of how it unites and knits together disparate peoples — the famous Dutch coach Rinus Michels once likened football with “something like war,” a challenge that required thinking of your opponent as the consummate enemy. The English and Americans have a longer history than most in recent times of friendship and affinity. But, now as they face each other later today, even the armies of both nations — so accustomed to joint action — are wading into the World Cup battlefield.
Above is a film sent by British troops stationed in Afghanistan to the English team encamped in South Africa. Says England captain, Steven Gerrard: “We realise as players what they are doing out there for the country. It does put everything into perspective. It drives you on when you realise how much it means to people that we do well out here.”
Of course, U.S. troops are also stationed out there, in similar surrounds. Not to be outdone, U.S. coach Bob Bradley even drafted in Commander Dan Jollota, the American helicopter pilot whose heroics inspired the film Blackhawk Down, as part of a team-bonding exercise to build up the spirit of the U.S. squad as it faces a daunting enemy. According to American star Clint Dempsey, some of his teammates even went to a zoo near their training complex to handle lions, a somewhat bizarre attempt at literal metaphor — England are know by the three lions on their jersey.
No matter the military rhetoric, the contest is still rather skewed, with England and its mega-rich superstars the clear favorites. An essay in the Wall Street Journal somewhat overstates the significance of the game for the English, suggesting this is the last frontier where they can exercise some sense of superiority over their brethren across the pond. My sense is that if England does indeed win, the overriding emotion in Albion will simply be one of profound relief. There remain the Germans and the French and the Argentines and far greater battles still left to fight.