Football Isn’t War
But Can Stop One
What follows is a figure of imagination, a dream, not yet a vision but an exercise of what could’ve been in an alternate past, or will, in a very distant future. Since both South and North Korea are taking part in the World Cup in South Africa, the timing for imagining such as thing is as good as any.
Yes, the North was accused in March of having sank a South Korean war vessel, killing sailors and awakening terrifying nightmares of a often threaten but so far, thank goodness, unfulfilled conflict in the Korean Peninsula.
But the World Cup is a time to put it all aside and imagine a brotherhood of nations, united in their taste for running after a ball and scoring a redemptive goal. No place to engage in anachronistic and frighteningly lethal political disputes.
Sure, there’re always petty disagreements between the two separated-at-birth countries. The illegal leaking of TV coverage of the games from the South to the North is one such example. And the U.S.-based North Koreans’ utmost discretion supporting their home team is another. They’re surely out there but it’s good that we don’t know where, lest not a paid spy or a volunteer low life overhear us and tell on them, causing their undesired repatriation.
Finally, it’s by now obvious neither has any chance to progress in this cup. The North, which put up a brave face against powerful Brazil in their first game and still lost, just fell completely apart against Portugal.
The South, always a better team than the North, is nevertheless also a candidate to go packing early. That’s because, as the schedule stands now, it’ll need an unlikely amount of goals to equalize their group’s expected winners, Greece and Mexico. It’ll always have a victory over one of them, though, Greece, to carry back home.
A helpful note for fellow travelers: from this point on, we’ll be using a lot of ‘past wishful tense’ verbs. Please feel free to make the proper adjustments as you go.
So what if they’d faced each other at some point in this cup? It doesn’t matter at what stage; these two playing against each other would have had the same weight of a final, at least for them and their citizens, trapped in such a puzzling political charade.
First, let’s see if that would have been at all possible.
South Korea, after Greece, would’ve had to have a great result against Argentina or Nigeria. Or have had a magical combination of scores, like Italy had in 1982. With three ties, it still won it all that year. So it would’ve been possible to Korea too.
With a lucky combinations of results, the South’d had gone on to face either winner or runner up of Group B. That’d have been Mexico or Uruguay, we know now. For the sake of argument, let’s say it would’ve beaten Uruguay in the second round.
Now, let’s leave it like that for a moment and see how North Korea could’ve fared, if it were really lucky. Remember, they beat the same Italy, already two-time champions, the last time they played the tournament, in 1966. So again, it wouldn’t have been impossible.
To advance in their group, the North would’ve had to beat at least two out of Brazil, Portugal and Ivory Coast. Or get that combination of ties, etc. Stay with me, this is fun. It would’ve had then faced the winner or runner up of Group H, Spain, Switzerland, Chile or Honduras. Let’s say they’ve beaten, for example, Chile, which, all hell broke loose, would’ve also scored their own miracle in this scenario.
Boom! They would’ve been in the Quarterfinals. Now, please don’t count the many leaps of faith it would’ve taken for us to get there just yet. The South would’ve beaten Argentina and the North, Spain. Everybody else would’ve been dead and South Korea would’ve met the North in the final.
You see, FIFA may’ve tried hard to keep these two separated by side and bracket, lest not to give either the chance to refuse to walk on the field and face the other. But we did it. And at that point, I’d very much doubt that the world over wouldn’t have helped the ball roll and approved a football match as a détente between these two long lost brothers.
Just imagine. It would’ve been a national day of reckoning for both nations, no question about it. Instead of all those warships teasing each other in the Korean Peninsula, thousand of leisure boats would be greeting each other. Tearful family reunions would abound on the beaches surrounding the area. The two rulers smiling, posing for pictures and to history. A celebration that… well, let’s leave it like that for now.
But if all it took was a few minutes of infernal math and absurdly optimist assumptions; a few strokes of imagination and a gargantuan desire to make it all work in the end, how much harder can peace be? As a matter of fact, much, much harder. But not impossible.
A great coda for this fantasy is no figure of anyone’s imagination. It actually happened. In 1967, warring factions of Nigeria’s seemingly endless Biafra civil war signed a 48-hour cease-fire so the great Pelé could play an exhibition match in the capital Lagos. It was Pelé, yes, but it was also thousands of people who, for a change, wanted to just watch a football match. And they got it. Any takers for this one?