What bandwagons are left for Guatemala?

Dear Dr. Sabelotodo,

Since Guatemala isn’t competing in the World Cup, who will Guatemalans root for?

Sincerely, Bob Soccer

Guatemalans have had decades of practice choosing other countries to root for in the World Cup. And they’ve settled on a few basic rules. They choose a team that has a chance of winning, that they feel some kinship with, and, most importantly, that isn’t Mexico.

Now, I know what you’re thinking, “but Dr. Sabelotodo, Mexico is sooo close to Guatemala, and they both speak Spanish and eat tortillas,” and those are excellent points, my dear, ignorant reader. But that doesn’t change the fact that Mexico stole Chiapas from Guatemala in the 19th century, nor the fact that, since the advent of cable television, arrogant Mexican commentators have filled Guatemalan living rooms with condescension and disrespect. No. Unless you’re a real obnoxious iconoclast, you don’t go for Mexico.

So, Mexico’s out. And Guatemala’s other Central American neighbors, Costa Rica and Panama, have a better chance of singing “smoke weed every day” at the same time as Nate Dogg at the end of that one song, as a team, in unison, than they do of winning the World Cup. So what’s a Guatemalan to do?

Some look to the Old World for inspiration. Those who really want their team to win pick defending champs Germany (they’ll at least make it out of their group, right?). Those who yearn for the days of yesteryear will go for Spain. And those who shave off a piece of their eyebrow and cake their hair in gel will probably go for Portugal.

But if you really want to find Guatemala’s heart this July, you’ll have to look farther south. There you’ll find the perfect mix of win probability, brotherhood, and non-mexicanness: Brazil and Argentina. If you want to make new friends, these are the teams to root for.

What does it all mean? Are Guatemalans punishing the Mexicans by rooting against them? Are they forgiving the Spanish by rooting for them? It’s hard to say. What makes the World Cup so great is that it means nothing and everything all at once.

On the one hand, it’s “just a game,” and when it’s over, everything will be as it was before.

On the other hand, it’s much more than that. As in 2006, when the Ivory Coast national team qualified for their first World Cup and put an end to their country’s civil war. Or in 1986, when Argentina (with a helping Hand from God) beat England in the World Cup quarterfinals four years after they had lost to them in the Falklands War.

The World Cup is one of the few high- stakes, international spaces in which we have the right to act like hooligans. So if your country isn’t in it, take a cue from the Guatemalans, revel in the meaningful meaninglessness of it all, and cheer passionately for whoever you want. Interna- tional relations will be serious again soon enough.

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