“Who are you rooting for in the final four?” one of Grace’s pals asked.
“Netherlands!” Grace responded emphatically. The surprise was double: Grace had been in slo-mo most of the evening, jet-lagged from her first trip to Vietnam, her family’s ancestral home, and now that she’d had a jolt of energy it was for the Netherlands?
“Noooo!” said the friend.
“Well, the Dutch were the colonial power in South Africa, after all.”
“Oh right,” said Grace. “I hadn’t even considered the post-colonial implications.”
“We were hoping for Uruguay but in the face of a contest between colonizers, we must err on the side of Achy’s very own.”
The heartbreak over Uruguay hadn’t been simply that they’d played such a fierce game against the Netherlands before falling 3-2. It was also that, as a relatively inoffensive little country, rooting for them doesn’t require a whole lot of compromise.
“That’s really what the World Cup is all about, isn’t it?” Grace sighed. “You know what team I was really curious about? North Korea.”
“Oh, man, they got smashed.”
“Yeah, I watched the game in Vietnam and it was really somber. Everyone was really worried about the aftermath for the North Korean players. I mean, you just know they got assassinated when they got home. You know who I liked to watch on that team?” Grace said, vaguely animated again. “The Japanese guy.”
“The Japanese guy?”
“Yeah, there’s a Japanese guy who gave up his South Korean citizenship so he could play for North Korea.”
“The hot dude who took off his shirt?”
She meant Jong Tae-Se, the impish striker, who bared his chest at least once per game. “Yeah, him.”
“Wait a minute – this is a Japanese dude who lived in South Korea and decided to play for North Korea?”
“Why would he do that?
“”Cuz,” said Grace, “he’s a big commie, I guess.”
Turns out she might be right: Jong is a third generation South Korean born in Japan with South Korean citizenship. But his parents sent him to North Korean-funded private schools in Japan from elementary school through college. He’s never actually lived in North Korea and has only spent time there training. When South Korea refused to let him renounce his citizenship, North Korea issued him a passport anyway because FIFA allows double citizenship.
Hard to say who he might be routing for, but there could be a clue in an interview Jong gave Brazilian TV.
“I want to play for another country,” he said in surprisingly fluent Portuguese. “Germany, England, Spain.”
Never once mentioned the Netherlands.