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Saturday, June 23, 2018
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Match Day 10 features Germany on the rebound, Mexico and Belgium flying high and plenty of time to watch if you've been cooped up in an office all week. 

  • The real reasons people support Iceland
  • Mexican fans at their worst
  • Where do Iran fans hangout in New York?
  • What we're drinking for Germany vs. Sweden
All of Iceland and much of Brooklyn are behind these guys. 

Who are all these Iceland supporters?


For a country with so few people, Iceland’s soccer team has a lot of fans.

“A thousands-strong force of cheering, singing, thunder-clapping Nordic people with near-South American levels of enthusiasm,” according to Sarah Lyall of The New York Times.

Everyone has been writing about Iceland’s rise since the 2016 European Championship, when the team from a country with only 340,000 people tied Portugal, beat Austria and ousted England on its way to the quarterfinal.

Iceland also won its World Cup-qualifying group from super-competitive Europe, and became the beloved underdog — a tournament debutant and the smallest country ever to compete.

Did you know the ruggedly handsome coach is a dentist and meets with fans in the pub? The goalkeeper is a film editor who makes music videos.

Here’s the thing though: the team is really good. And I'm impressed with how Iceland got so good.

The team lived up to the hype by stifling Lionel Messi and stymieing Argentina in the teams’ Group D opener. It was a tie that felt like a win for Iceland — and a loss for Argentina.

Iceland was beat 2-0 by Nigeria (population 186 million) yesterday, but can still theoretically advance. (Watch highlights.)

For me, Iceland is that indie darling that got too popular, too quickly. I remember when a couple of knowing friends and I would see them in small clubs, but now everyone has concert T-shirts from the arena tour.

Also, there are other small countries (Costa Rica) that made the World Cup for the first time (Panama) with stronger ties to the United States. Why didn’t more Americans adopt those teams after the U.S. team’s failure?

I went looking for Iceland fans in New York — the people lured aboard the viking ship by stylish marketing. I expected to find soccer neophytes and American fans who are more comfortable rooting for a European underdog with whom they have no ties than a more familiar Latin American rival.

What I’ve found in my completely unscientific and probably biased field research of craft-beer bars in Brooklyn are four types of Iceland fans with whom I want to drink cold Einstök Ölgerđ beer on Tuesday and cheer their boys on to the round of 16 at Argentina’s expense.

Icelanders

And they all seem to know each other. Karl Gudmundsson went to the same high school as Emil Hallfredsson, a midfielder on the national team. And Gudmundsson’s youth coach on Vestmannaeyjar Island, where he grew up, was the local dentist, Heimir Hallgrimsson, now the coach of the national team.

Gudmundsson, who has lived in New York for seven years, was watching the Nigeria match at Clinton Hall in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, with his wife, their two children and other friends from Iceland now transplanted in New York. They were all wearing Iceland jerseys and the kids had their faces painted with the flag.

Gudmundsson said it’s easy for neutrals to root for Iceland because the team is fun, the country has never been at war with anyone and there are so few people, every fan of the team can feel special.

People Married to Icelanders

Paul Weil can not only tell you that Gylfi Sigurdsson is a midfielder, Ragnar Sigurdsson is a defender and Bjorn Sigurdarson is a forward, he can tell you what role they play in Iceland’s well-practiced counter-attacking 4-4-2 lineup. Weil knows soccer, and as the son of the Johns Hopkins University women’s coach, he appreciates Hallgrimsson’s strategy and finely honed tactics — effective team soccer that earns results better than the individual talent on the field may deserve.

Weil is also married to Johanna Methusalemsdottir, an Icelander, and they live in Brooklyn with their daughter Lola. Weil’s love of soccer and Johanna couldn’t be more convenient. After watching their enthusiasm during the Argentina match and listening to Weil’s in-game analysis at the Black Horse Pub in Park Slope, I’m pretty sure he’s eligible for Icelandic citizenship and a spot on Hallgrimsson’s coaching staff.

People Who Have Been to Iceland

Kenny Burtner looked nervous at the bar tugging on his Errea Iceland jersey (the Euro 2016 edition) before the Argentina match. He was invested, for sure. I asked him where he was from and his accent gave it away: Fresno, California. But he studied abroad in Iceland, in high school, from 2006 to 2007. He lived with a host family in the small town of Selfoss (pop. 6,900) and he and his host brother went to see Iceland play Denmark and Burtner was hooked.

Former Teammates of Icelandic International Soccer Players

Emmet Austin and I enjoyed a cold Einstök at Clinton Hall yesterday, and he’s my kind of soccer fan. He sort of drops his shoulder or torques his torso while watching, as if he’s the one trying to get past Victor Moses to the endline, or fight off Ahmed Musa. But it wasn’t to be for Austin, whose professional soccer career was ended by injury shortly after a spell with West Ham United in the early 1990s. Still, he stays close to the game, and roots for Iceland because his old teammate from Columbia University, Rikki Daddason, played for Iceland 40 times, scoring 14 international goals, and Austin said he’s friendly with members of the Iceland technical staff.

Maybe I Can Root for Iceland, Maybe

Costa Rica is out, and Panama has no chance. I’d like to see Mexico do well and I’m enamored with Iran. Still, I can see Iceland’s appeal.

I asked Kaslyn Bos, the bartender at Clinton Hall, how it became the Iceland bar in Brooklyn. “Because we’re showing the game,” she deadpanned.

But the bar had a flag, and Einstök, a white ale made with coriander and orange peel.

“This morning we were the Brazilian bar,” she said, holding up a bottle of Leblon Cachaca.

Brazil beat Costa Rica, 2-0, with two dramatic late goals in extra time, restoring order to Group E with Brazil on top. Watch the highlights.

I thought about maybe sticking around for the Serbia-Switzerland match (which the Swiss won solidly, 2-1) and asked Bos what was on offer.

“Just our normal Icelandic beer,” she said.  

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RUN OF PLAY | Great Reads and More


Will Mexico fans check themselves on South Korean goal kicks?
FIFA fined the Mexican soccer federation 10,000 Swiss francs, which is about the same in dollars, after some of the team's fans repeatedly chanted a homophobic epithet at German goalkeeper Manuel Neuer during the teams' first Group F match last week. Mexican fans regularly chant "puto" at opposing goalkeepers when they attempt a goal kick, and the slur has earned Mexican fans an ugly reputation.

Unfortunately, pleas by members of El Tri, the FIFA fine and threat of further sanctions are not likely to end the shameful practice.  In this Reuters video, several Mexican fans in Russia gallingly defend the chant. One fan even says, in Spanish, you have to understand Mexican culture; the chant doesn't mean anything and it's not homophobic. Shame. 

Mexico plays South Korea in Rostov-on-Don today at 11 a.m. ET.

Read more about the how the chant has marred an otherwise civil World Cup.

Where do Iran fans hang out in New York?
In an interview Thursday on Cheddar TV, I talked about how Team Melli gives Iranians a safe, secular way to show their national pride separate from the theocratic government. But the country's religious rulers are nervous that collective enthusiasm for the soccer team could become political. Some members of the team openly support progressive political changes, making the ayatollahs wary. Still, authorities allowed women into Azadi Stadium in Tehran on Wednesday to watch Iran's Group B game against Spain on large video screens.

And all around the capital people are gathering — men and women — to celebrate the team's success. My buddy Thomas Erdbrink, "Our Man in Tehran," watched the game against Spain with his wife, the wonderful photographer Newsha Tavakolian, and 300 other people at a garden party. He said "my place was empty," a Persian saying meaning that I was missed. I don't want to miss out, and since I can't catch up with Thomas and Newsha, I'm looking for a place in New York to watch Iran and Portugal on Monday Any recommendations? 

Read more about the government's anxiety over the soccer team's popularity.

'This is a Moscow I don't know.'
Residents of the Russian capital have noticed a number of changes since the start of the World Cup, including large groups of people openly smiling on the street. Also: talking on the subway, gathering in public unmolested by police and brandishing rainbow flags displaying gay pride. 

Read more about Moscow's newly relaxed social mores.
 

World Cup story that makes me feel really old.
The lede of my old friend Christopher Clarey's article about France the other day in The Times: "The French forward Kylian Mbappé was not yet born when France beat Brazil, 3-0, to win the World Cup at home on July 12, 1998." 

Read more about the legacy of France's 1998 World Cup victory.

#WorldCupS: What we're drinking for GER vs. SWE


By Tammy Kennon and Chip Sellarole

In a classic #WorldCupS match today, when Germany plays Sweden in Group F in Sochi at 2 p.m. ET. 

For Germany, we're drinking Weihenstephan Hefeweissbier a brew Americans can’t pronounce and for Sweden it's Absolut buy a vowel  Vodka.

This clash of the glasses has some serious artistry and history behind it.

Germany
Benedictine monks have been brewing on Weihenstephan Hill in Bavaria for nearly a thousand years, holding tight their steins through fires (four of them), plagues, wars, plunderings, famines and a great earthquake.

Through the hardship and the millennium, they have elevated their craft to an art. The name “Hefeweissbier” is basically the recipe: hefe means yeast; weiss is wheat. And when hefe is on a German beer label, it means there’s yeast in the bottle, giving it a cloudy appearance but a lively freshness and creamy mouthfeel.

The German yeast the monks use has a signature hint of banana and baked bread, with some clove and spices in the background. If you’ve never had a German hefe, have this one. Enjoy with spicy cheeses or sausage – especially Bavarian veal sausage. Prost!

Sweden
The Swedes have only been making Absolut Vodka for 100 years, but because they’re Swedes, they’re showing us how to do it right: with passion for their community and our planet. It’s something they call One Source. All their ingredients come from within 60 miles of the distillery. While this would be impressive even from a craft producer, these guys are making more than 130 million bottles a year. That’s 366,000 bottles a day.

And those bottles are locally sourced – and delivered to the distillery every three hours. The vodka in every each one is made with local wheat and water from the distilleries own wells, which run deeper than the length of a soccer field. And by the way, they are completely CO2 neutral. Inspiring. Read more about that here.

Perpetually consistent, purely crafted. Absolut.ly. Skål!

Here's a suggestion on how to use Absolut in a classic appletini as you watch the game.

  • 1 1/2 parts Absolut
  • 3/4 parts lemon juice
  • 2/3 parts apple schnapps
  • 2/3 parts apple juice
  • 1/2 part simple syrup

 

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The great fallacy is that the game is first and last about winning. It's nothing of the kind. The game is about glory. It's about doing things in style, with a flourish, about going out and beating the other lot, not waiting for them to die of boredom.

— Danny Blanchflower
Tottenham captain and Northern Ireland international turned journalist

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