I know almost nothing about soccer (football, if you must), but the World Cup is a great spectacle, and the international rivalries are fun. When else will I ever get a chance to say, "Those blasted Slovenians!"?
Immigrant communities aside, the United States still hasn't embraced soccer wholeheartedly, and I think that has a lot to do with the whole cultural package of soccer. For one thing, soccer requires a patience and attention to detail that most Americans aren't willing to give it. True fans might rave about a 0-0 draw, and be able to talk enthusiastically about that header at the 23-minute mark or the bad call at minute 48 or the handball that invalidated the goal in injury time. (I'm not even entirely clear on how injury time is calculated; it seems arbitrary, but a lot of soccer looks that way to me.)
Another aspect of the soccer culture alien to Americans is all the singing. Around the world, soccer fans sing. Every football club has at least one theme song. Entire countries have football theme songs, with this one (England's, written for the European Championships in 1996) the best known. Choosing the theme songs for this year's World Cup was a big deal; I don't know exactly what to make of FIFA's choice of R. Kelly and Shakira for this year's official anthem and song.
What I like most, though, are the national anthems. You never see American sporting teams sing our national anthem before games; they stand silent on the field, caps or helmets or hands on their chest, looking serious and/or bored before it's time to play. At the World Cup, the teams sing out, and everybody seems to know the words. I hope our guys do.
Here are five national anthems we'll be hearing a lot more of before the tournament ends.
1. "Himno Nacional Argentino," Argentina. I like a title that means what it says. Written by Vicente Lopez y Planes (lyrics) and Blas Parera (music), the Argentine National Hymn has been the national anthem of Argentina since May 11, 1813. The song commemorates the May Revolution of 1810, and the original lyrics are graphic and violently anti-Spain ("the arrogant Iberian lion"). More moderate lyrics were adopted in 1900. At nearly four minutes, the official version is long, so you'll usually hear only the instrumental lead-in at Olympics medal ceremonies and similar events. You can hear the whole song (with English subtitles) here.
2. "Het Wilhelmus," The Netherlands. The Dutch national anthem is the world's oldest, although it was not officially recognized until 1932. The title means "The William," and the song commemorates William the Silent's revolt against Spain. (Those Spanish tyrants inspired a lot of music.) The song was first published in 1574, while William was still alive. It is written in the first person, as if sung by William himself; no one knows exactly who wrote the words, but it wasn't William. The tune comes from a French soldiers' song about the 1569 siege of Chartres. In most settings, only the first and sixth verses are sung. Interestingly, the Dutch national anthem refers to the Netherlands as "Fatherland," while the Argentine anthem calls their country "Motherland." You can listen to a short version of the Dutch anthem here.
3. "Hino Nacional Brasileiro," Brazil. Written in 1822 to commemorate Brazil's independence from Portugal, the Brazilian National Hymn has had several different sets of lyrics over the years. Francisco Manuel da Silva wrote the melody, while the lyrics are based on a 1909 poem by Joaquim Osório Duque-Estrada. This song forgoes family metaphors and calls its country simply "homeland." You can listen to it here.
4. "Himno Nacional de Uruguay," Uruguay. At 105 bars, Uruguay's national anthem is officially the longest piece of music used as a national anthem; other countries have more verses, but the music is repeated. Generally, only the first two verses are sung. The lyrics were written by the Uruguayan poet Francisco Acuña de Figueroa, with music by the Hungarian-Uruguayan composer Francisco José Debali. It was played for the first time in 1845. The song calls on its citizens as "Orientals," presumably meaning "easterners," since Uruguay is on the east coast of South America. This site not only lets you listen to the song, but teaches you the words. Oh, and this one goes in the "Fatherland" column.
5. "Paraguayos, República o Muerte," Paraguay. "Republic or Death" is what this title means. I guess it makes sense that so many national anthems seem to emphasize the need to be willing to die for one's country. (There's a future blog post: Five Things I'd Be Willing to Die For. I'll have to think about that for a while.) Anyway, the lyrics were written by the same Francisco Acuña de Figueroa who wrote the words to the Uruguayan national anthem, although it is not clear who wrote the music. It might have been Acuña de Figueroa himself, it might have been Francisco de Depuis, or it might have been the same Francisco José Debali who wrote the music for the Uruguayan anthem. Like other South American national songs, it is quite anti-Spain. Paraguay is addressed as "Fatherland." You can listen to it here.