June 12, 2018


In Iceland, World Cup players aren't gods. They're neighbors. (Chuck Culpepper, June 10, 2018, Washington Post)

The 21st World Cup, set to distract the planet beginning Thursday in Russia, will bring its usual masters such as Brazil (population: 207 million) and Germany (80 million) and its frequenters such as Nigeria (190 million) and Japan (126 million). In the case of tournament debutant Iceland (340,000), it's as if Bakersfield, Calif., made the World Cup, or, as the 24-year-old Iceland-apparel-store owner Bergthor Thorvaldsson said, like "a town in Texas."

Yet as stunning as was the passage of this wee, noiseless island where hardly anybody ever honks a horn, as remarkable as it was that Iceland won its qualification group outright in the most dreaded of earthly footballing continents, and as deserving as it is among the pantheon of sports feats in this desperate, underdog-eat-underdog world, it manages to become more staggering with familiarity. It manages to lap at the shores of absurd.

They've all accessed the World Cup from a handsome little stadium, Laugardalsvollur, with one scoreboard clock and open ends and four stalwart light stanchions either reminiscent of a Texas high school football joint (or smaller). When a ball sails over a goal and crosses the running track -- yeah, the running track -- someone runs to retrieve it, reminiscent of teenagers chasing down extra points on an American Friday night. They've reached the World Cup from a country where people speak of standing next to the prime minister in line -- at shoe repair.

Still more than all that, it's how many times you hear someone say that everyone seems to know someone with the team, or knows someone who knows someone, until you start thinking that everyone knowing someone or knowing somebody who knows someone might be some kind of national motto.

It's the mad, mad reality conveyed by the 27-year-old defender Holmar Orn Eyjolfsson. While the likes of Brazil and Germany will play before their droves of fervent strangers, Eyjolfsson said that if he happens to glimpse into the stands while playing . . .

"You know where your people are sitting, obviously, but yeah, definitely, you can look into the stands and know somebody."

"Into any section?"

"Probably. Yes."

He laughed.

Posted by at June 12, 2018 4:34 AM