Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Mama said knock you out

I have no real problem with Belgium. I've been to the country twice and found it to be more or less pretty pleasant. Granted, my experiences are quite mixed as I've been to Antwerp, which is a delightful city with some tremendous museums, and Brussels, which might be the most uninteresting place I have ever been. And I've been to Elkhart, Indiana more than once. I do hope to make it to Bruges one day even if the crux of one of my favorite films, In Bruges, is that the city is unbelievably dull, and I once visited friends in Aachen, Germany, which is almost sort of near Liege.

In short, Belgium is fine. They make good chocolate and taught us to make waffles in large circles. I generally have little reason to dislike the place even if it can't decide if it wants to be one country or two.

Or, at least I had little reason to dislike the place.

This afternoon will change all of that, as the United States faces Belgium in the Round of 16 at the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Salvador, Brazil. Getting this far was no small feat, as the Yanks barely hung on in a hard-fought loss against Germany to emerge from the Group of Death this past Thursday. Now that the United States has managed to exceed most people's expectations, however, the real work begins.

There are almost no places in sports where you can find the same kind of tension and drama that you will find in the knockout stages of the World Cup, particularly if it ends up going so far as "the dreaded penalty shootout", which has happened twice already in the current tournament. Should the U.S. and Belgium be forced to penalty kicks, I might tear a few hairs out and swear off chocolate-covered waffles forever, but there would have to be 120 minutes of stalemate to come before that happens.

As a result of the tension and drama the knockout round is heir to, I have no choice but to regard Belgium as my sworn enemy -- an extremely boring one at that. Today's match has stoked the competitive fire of heavy-hitting entities far and wide, while crystallizing just how much of our fragile national pride and psyche are at stake.

Make no mistake. Today is a pivotal, pivotal battle in the longstanding battle for national superiority between the United States and Belgium. Like Charlie in A Wrinkle in Time, what transpires in Salvador this afternoon will tip the scales in an eternal struggle that dates all the way back to this past Thursday afternoon when it became clear the Yanks and the Red Devils would be meeting with their respective national fates on the line.

I consider myself a fairly open-minded citizen of the world most of the time. But not today. Today, my xenophobic jingoism runs high as America looks to out-freedom those evil Belgians, and frankly, it shouldn't be difficult to find reasons to be both confident and adamant if you're draped in Old Glory. After all, Belgium was home to one of the most horrific exercises in colonialism in the modern age with its domination of Central Africa. All that indicates, though, is a country that refuses to pick on nation states its own size (even if geographically Belgium really is quite small). Consider that Belgium used modern weaponry to essentially enslave the Congo, but was run over with nary a drop of sweat broken by the Germans in World War I.

Oh, and who was it that helped save the Belgians in their darkest hour during the Great War? Oh, right. The United States.

This was not a fight we started. Belgium brought the war to our shores with its hostile takeover of our beloved Anheuser-Busch in 2008. It's time to strike back. So yeah, Belgium. You can keep your boring capital cities, Fellaini's out-of-control-but-kind-of-awesome hair, and your historically accurate invention of the French fry. Keep your your World War I battle fields that inspire great poetry. Take your top-level universal healthcare system and shove it. Do the same with your relatively low crime rates and your relatively high windmill rates.

These colors don't run. Belgium is officially our sworn enemy until about 6:30 p.m. tonight. It's the U.S.'s time to stand up for liberty and make this America's day (even if it's technically Canada's day). And we're not waffling. Those Red Devils can keep 'em. And their chocolate, too.

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