As the World Cup turns and the ball rolls, authors weigh in

As the World Cup turns and the ball rolls, authors weigh in
In 1982, Algeria beat West Germany 2-1 in one of the great upsets in World Cup history. The two teams will meet again next week in World Cup 2014, prompting many reactions from the soccer literati. (AP)

The World Cup took a break on Friday. After 15 days of uninterrupted kicking of soccer balls in assorted Brazilian cities, and with 16 teams now moving on to the second round, televisions around the globe fell silent. Which became the perfect time to sit down at a keyboard to pen opinions and reactions, as many a noted author did.

The authors' musings and rants on "football" and the "beautiful game" (as the player Pele once called soccer), nationalism and sport read a bit like novels.


Aleksandar "Sasha" Hemon, the Bosnian American, Chicago-based author of several books (including a new one on his lifelong passion for soccer), posted an angry tweet after Russia was eliminated. After commenting on Russian foreign policy, he said the team's poor showing "embodied Putinesque buff dumbness." And he was no less tough on his own, beloved Bosnian team.

Bosnia was dreadful. Dzeko and Spahic a disgrace. No one to blame but themselves. Now back to the terrible reality.

Lebanese American novelist Rabih Alameddine has been following the fortunes of Algeria, a team that's been adopted by much of the Arab-speaking world. Algeria will play Germany in the round of 16 next week. And in an article for the New Republic, Alameddine remembered the last time the two teams met.

In 1982, Algeria upset West Germany in the first round of the World Cup but was eliminated a few days later when West Germany and Austria later played one of the most notorious games in World Cup history -- a "gentleman's agreement" tie that allowed both teams to qualify to the second round at Algeria's expense.

"It has been 32 years. I thought I had amputated all the anger and hate of that game, that whatever frisson of rage I felt when I was reminded of it was simply a phantom limb sensation," he wrote. "And now Algeria is playing Germany in the next round. Winner takes all!"

But mostly, Alameddine has been just watching. When Argentina's Lionel Messi scored a sublime goal to beat Iran, it was the kind of moment a true lover of the game waits hours to see. Alameddine tweeted a kind of rhythmic celebration.

Oh, Messi, Messi, Messi. Just Messi, Messi, Messi

Teju Cole is one of the most active, and followed, authors on Twitter. With roots in Nigeria and the United States and literary influences from around the globe, Cole is an ardent proponent of global culture. As he said in one tweet:

(This much football must be tedious for non-futbolistas. But — football apart — it's also quite an interesting time for keen internationalists.)

And in another:

Any occasion that situates the US as just one among many nations, and not necessarily the most gifted or interesting, is a wonderful thing.

But like thousands of others, Cole felt obliged to weigh in on the biggest controversy of the World Cup so far: when Uruguayan player Luis Suarez bit (allegedly, for Uruguayans) an Italian defender. Soccer's organizing body, FIFA, handed Suarez a suspension that includes his missing the rest of the tournament.

A football suspension is just a holiday for Suarez. The way to really hurt him would have been a ban from all Italian restaurants.

For the poet Ricardo Rowan Phillips, the World Cup is an occasion to celebrate the diversity of his friendships and relationships that link him to fans of a dozen World Cup teams. In the Paris Review's blog, he wrote a moving celebration of the World Cup as a reflection of global culture. Algeria's team, for example, is composed of many sons of Algerian immigrants who have settled and made lives in France.


"I watch Bosnia for my friends Sasa and Veba, because Bosnia reminded me so much of them — committed, creative, pensive, puckish. Colombia for my aunt Claudia and her mother, Nelly … Algeria for Camus's ghost and for their players born in France, who heard the call to come back."

Tobar tweets about books and other things as @TobarWriter