Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The World Cup in Ecuador

The Belgian national anthem finished and the first rumbling bars of the Stars and Stripes struck up. As one, the pub stood with their hands over their hearts and belted out every word. I was the only person not standing because I am officially a Belgian citizen (even though I misplaced my ID card over a year ago).
I was in Finn McCools Irish pub in the centre of Quito and I had just discovered the American expat community in Ecuador outnumbers the Belgian community (if I can count myself as the Belgian community) by about 100 to one.
It's been fun watching the World Cup in South America and a very different atmosphere to back in England.
For a start, the level of hostility and violence in the bars is almost non-existent.
I watched Colombia beat Uruguay and the large Colombian community in Ecuador went absolute crazy, buying bottles of rum and taking over all of the bars in the centre of Marsical, cranking up the salsa and the Carlos Vives on the stereo.
What was incredible is everybody was somewhere on the road to blind drunkenness and not one fight broke out - if this was any city centre in England (but especially one north of London) it would have been a bloody riot.
Unfortunately for Quito's nascent gay community it was the same day as their big Pride celebration. They had arranged bands, dancers, music and parades. I felt bad for them, the gays didn't stand a chance against the army of drunk Colombians. Pretty soon the drag queens were pushed to the periphery of their own party and Lady Gaga's 'Born this Way' was drowned out by 'La Gota Fria'.
In Latin America there is a lot more unity than in Europe. Ecuadorians will support a South American country over any other team and Ecuadorians will support Colombia over any other team because they're neighbours.
In England the closer (geographically) a country is to our little island, the less likely we are to support them. I'm a rare Federalist in an island of Isolationists and will always support the European teams, but with England out of the cup after two matches I plumped for Ecuador.
Ecuador's campaign lasted just one match longer than England's, and a draw against France saw them eliminated.
The standard of Ecuadorian football is pretty poor, with the exception of two players (both called Valencia). The national league is somewhere between Division One and Division Two - it's hardly surprising the players aren't too enthusiastic about performing since most haven't been paid for the last six months.
Ecuador were largely outplayed by France but they showed a spirit and determination that I haven't seen in an England team for so many years. My Valencia (Antonio) was sent off and it was t'other Valencia's turn to take centre stage. He's almost as fast as his namesake and much less likely to see a red-card. I reckon he'll be in the Prem before long.
When Ecuador were sent home by Switzerland most people just shrugged their shoulders, said: "good game" and moved on with their lives. There was none of the soul-searching, inquiries, demands for resignations, or burning Beckham effigies that happens in England. I suppose the Ecuadorians, quite rightly, recognise the World Cup is just a bit of a laugh and there's no reason to bite somebody's ear off over it.

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