World Cup: Break-away nations’ success

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by Michael Y.P. Ang

In the past quarter-century alone, the world has witnessed the creation of over 30 sovereign states. Political developments have prompted nations (or provinces with secessionist tendencies) within a nation to rise up and seek national sovereignty

Independence movements around the world and the emergence of new national football teams make for interesting observations of the relationship between football and politics.

Malaysia Tak Boleh

Twelve years after Singapore separated from Malaysia in 1965, the Lions made their debut in World Cup qualifying and faced the Tigers, who had prior experience on the global stage (1972 Olympic Games). Despite this, the less-experienced Lions defeated the Tigers 1-0. Subsequently, Malaysia was eliminated, while Singapore progressed to a play-off against Hong Kong.

For this year’s World Cup, Singapore also hit Malaysia with a knockout blow during the qualifiers. Malaysian media recently reported that the Football Association of Malaysia was chided by some of the country’s politicians for failing to fulfil its promise of making the Tigers qualify for the World Cup in Brazil.

Yugoslavia, down you go

Like Malaysia, Yugoslavia failed to overcome one of its former provinces in World Cup qualifying.

In 1991, Slovenia, one of six Yugoslav socialist republics, declared its independence. Although only two Slovenians have ever been deemed good enough to represent Yugoslavia in the World Cup finals – Branko Oblak in 1974 and Srecko Katanec in 1990 – Slovenia managed to hold Yugoslavia to a draw, twice, in World Cup qualifying in 2001.

Eventually, Slovenia finished one point ahead of Yugoslavia in their qualifying group and reached the 2002 finals at the expense of the Yugoslavs.

Anyone but England, a one-hit wonder

Unlike Yugoslavia, England’s team has many of its compatriots supporting its opponents.

Britain is allowed to field multiple ‘national’ teams (England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland) in World Cup competition. Despite sharing a common citizenship with the English, many Scottish fans do not view England as representing them because they have their own team.

Due to the long-standing intense football rivalry between Scotland and England, many Scottish fans proudly believe in Anyone But England, a cause strengthened by the sentiments of those planning to vote ‘Yes’ in September’s Scottish independence referendum.

London-based magazine The Spectator says England’s World Cup elimination last Thursday will help save the union with Scotland.

If the Three Lions had gone on to lift the trophy, “the English would be intolerably smug …, especially towards its northern neighbours.” And mixing “the sight of Wayne Rooney holding aloft the World Cup amid a sea of St George’s crosses” with the “particular (Scottish) sensitivity to Anglo arrogance” is bound to make the Scots want to separate.

Fortunately for Unionists, England remains a one-hit wonder – a team needing home-ground advantage to become world champion but unable to reach another World Cup Final even after 12 attempts over 48 years, let alone win the coveted trophy a second time.

Catalonia in a future World Cup?

Although Spain, like Britain, faces a crisis of disunity (the Catalonia region has vowed to hold an independence referendum in November), La Roja still enjoys Catalan support because of Catalans donning the colours of the Iberian kingdom, such as Cesc Fabregas, Xavi Hernandez, and Gerard Piqué.

However, instead of promoting national unity, Spain’s first-ever World Cup triumph in 2010 emphasised Spain’s fractured political union. Reporting on that historic win, Madrid-based media downplayed the contribution of Catalan players, while Catalonia-based media put the spotlight on Catalans.

If Catalonia gains independence, don’t be surprised if a new Catalan national team does to Spain what Singapore and Slovenia had done to Malaysia and Yugoslavia respectively.

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