Tom Sorensen

On the World Cup, Charlotte ties, and how there’s one team it’s impossible to dislike

Argentina goalkeeper Wilfredo Caballero reacts after Iceland’s Alfred Finnbogason scores his side’s opening goal during the group D match between Argentina and Iceland on Saturday.
Argentina goalkeeper Wilfredo Caballero reacts after Iceland’s Alfred Finnbogason scores his side’s opening goal during the group D match between Argentina and Iceland on Saturday. AP

A guy I know, a Charlotte restaurateur, is from Serbia, and I’d hoped to find him after Serbia’s 1-0 World Cup victory Sunday against Costa Rica. He wasn’t in Intermezzo Pizzeria and Cafe, the family's restaurant. But wherever he was, I knew he’d be wearing a red and white, or white and red, Serbian jersey, and I knew that wherever his feet were they weren’t on the ground.

I have no idea what’s it like to leave your home and move 5,000 miles away. I’d think it’s a fantastic adventure. I’d also think it’s lonely. You leave not only your people, but your customs and traditions. When your country is on the pitch, you want everybody to know.

Even when its not, you want people to know. Walk around Charlotte and you see jerseys from Mexico and Germany, Brazil and England. I’d hoped to join an English friend for his country’s too taut 2-1 victory Monday against Tunisia. I couldn’t get there, but I did drive within a mile of Jackalope Jack’s, and I think I heard him.

I’ve watched more World Cup soccer this tournament than I ever have. Because I don’t know the sport the way I know baseball, I can’t appreciate the subtleties and skills that go into a 1-0 or 2-1 game.

But I can appreciate the import and the hustle. These guys are playing for the king or the president or the dictator, and for their people.

Twelve years ago I covered the heavyweight title fight between Charlotte’s Calvin Brock and Wladimir Klitschko of the Ukraine. Although the fight was at Madison Square Garden, there were moments when we could have been in Kiev. Klitschko was a 6-6 care package from home. He could fight a little, too.

The World Cup is more than a 32-team travelogue. Some teams are fast, entertaining and daring. I picked Uruguay before the tournament began because I couldn't the same teams everybody else does. I like Mexico. I like Serbia and England because of my friends.

I also like Iceland. Except for the people who pull for the team that plays them, who dislikes Iceland? Whom has Iceland ever attacked or tried to bend to its frozen will? Nobody.

And they have fewer residents than Raleigh. There are only 47,000 more people in Iceland than there are in Greensboro. Charlotte attracts 47,000 new residents a day. And they all rent lookalike apartments and ride motorized scooters.

So I like the World Cup. But to revel in it, I need to find a group of partisan fans and watch with them. And I will.

Tom Sorensen is a retired Charlotte Observer columnist. Sign up for his newsletter, and follow him on Twitter: @tomsorensen

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