Five officers representing five different countries from four continents at the 304th Military Intelligence Battalion sat down at Nicholson Hall during the first week of the World Cup Soccer championship in Brazil to talk about what makes the international sporting event so important. Four of the five are attending the MI Captains Career Course.
1st Lt. Lars Woletz from Germany kicked the conversation off by saying, “Soccer unites everyone.” Everyone seated around the table nodded their heads in agreement. Capt. Tosin Fagoyinbo from Nigeria quickly added, “It is the most popular game in the world.”
Four officers discussing the sport come from countries which have a team in the cup. Croatia, Germany, Nigeria and the United States all have teams attempting to qualify to be among the 16 teams who make the cut for the next round of competition. The four officers from these countries clearly support their home teams. But who would they cheer for if their country did not make it to the next round?
1st. Lt. Igor Vladusic from Croatia was hesitant to voice support for a team other than his country but admitted he would support neighbor Bosnia-Herzegovinia if Croatia were eliminated.
Germany has a long history of being one of the most successful nations in the World Cup. They have won the championship three times and made it to the finals on four other occasions. Given that storied history, it was clear by the look in his eyes that German Woletz had a hard time believing Germany could be eliminated. He did, however, note that the Netherlands has a strong team and if Germany were eliminated, he would support them.
Nigerian Fagoyinbo was extremely diplomatic and said that any team that qualified for the World Cup was already a winner. However when pressed, he admitted he would cheer on fellow African nation Cote d’Ivoire if Nigeria is eliminated.
Why is soccer so popular around the world? Croatian Vladusic without hesitation said, “Everyone plays football (soccer).”
Perhaps part of the game’s appeal is its simplicity. “All you need is two stones to mark goals and a ball. If you don’t have a ball, you might even use a third stone as a ball,” said Nigerian Fagoyinbo.
There is clearly an outbreak of World Cup fever in the classrooms and hallways of Nicholson Hall. U.S. Army Capt. Adam Maneen, Company A, 304th MI Bn. commander, ensures the television in the Alpha Company area is tuned to World Cup coverage so officers can pop in and check scores.
In cities around the world, big screens are set up in public venues and communities get together to watch the games. Soccer is social.
Croatian Vladusic uses any opportunity in his free time to watch games. He was able to get together with a small group of soccer fans to watch the games in the lobby of his hotel during his recent trip to Washington, D.C. Vladusic calls his wife back home in Croatia, but he was quick to point out they don’t talk about soccer.
In keeping with the social nature of the sport, social media is used extensively by the international officers to keep their fingers on the pulse of the World Cup mood with friends and loved ones back home. Smartphones were pulled out at the beginning of the interview to get the final score of the Costa Rica’s upset against Italy, which was concluding.
Fagoyinbo keeps in touch with the World Cup vibe in Nigeria through Facebook.
El Salvadoran Luna stays in touch with his father and brother via Skype. Sometimes they argue about games. His father is a supporter of Spain.
Woletz’ unit in Germany is watching the World Cup and his fellow Soldiers send him pictures of the unit’s game-watching events via text messages. Woletz gets together with the German Liaison Office team here and other Soldiers to watch the games locally at Buffalo Wild Wings.
All five officers had positive things to say about the growth of the sport in the United States.
“You currently have a good generation of players. The best players are playing on teams in Europe and bringing that experience to the national team,” said Croatian Vladusic. He believes that we have all the right factors in the U.S. to be of influence on the international scene. “The U.S. has a good foundation for the growth of the sport,” he added.
American Maneen, who played Division I soccer in college and recently on Sierra Vista teams, feels that the U.S. is heading in the right direction, but Americans still prefer high scoring games like basketball.
Nigerian officer Fagoyinbo was pleased to see clips of U.S. Soldiers in Afghanistan watching the World Cup during television broadcasts here.
Vladusic and Fagoyinbo think the U.S. can go far in this World Cup and Woletz was quick to add, “They have a German coach.”
When asked to pick a winner of this year’s World Cup, Vladusic and Woletz feel either Germany or the Netherlands have good prospects to go all the way. Luna’s choice is Brazil. All five officers agreed that Mexico has a very strong team and could surprise everyone.
“Anything could happen,” Croatian Vladusic pointed out. “When it’s unpredictable it’s more interesting.”