The beautiful game bewitches all on the European stage

NOBODY and nothing has been immune to the soccer question for the past few weeks. Irrespective of whether the issue was religion, sex, economics, culture, politics, the question was asked: Who do you support?

The Pope, no doubt wanting to avoid accusations of being partisan, said he would not even watch the semi-final between his own Germany and Spain.

Instead, he would pick up the result from someone after the match as he wandered around his summer residence south of Rome.

A senior Spanish clergyman in the Vatican, however, made no bones about it. Whether the Pope was German or not, he would be shouting for Spain.

“There are no saints in soccer,” he said, when asked if he was being disloyal to Benedict.

Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, having watched his native Portugal collapse under the embrace of the old enemy, Spain, said it was wonderful a European team made it to the final.

But nobody really wanted to gloat, as having two European teams in a world final in South Africa could easily revive bad memories of colonialism.

Everybody would have liked to have seen South Africa, or at least some African team, survive longer in the series.

Nelson Mandela was able to pull off presenting the rugby world cup to the largely Afrikaner team in a highly symbolic moment 15 years ago, at the same time humbling and pride-giving for the citizens of the rainbow nation.

Germany winning through would have been equally beneficial for all of us troubled peripheral countries of the euro zone, Labour finance spokesperson Joan Burton thought during the week.

Their shrill histrionics about other countries’ economic situations has not helped so far, and she believes that much of their attitude is down to a lack of confidence. A win would have done them good and might have made them a little more lenient when they see the next Irish deficit and the result of the banks’ stress tests.

The unflappable, anaemic-looking president of the European Central Bank, Jean-Claude Trichet, having spent 40 minutes answering questions about imminent euro disappearance and European bank collapse, was lobbed a question on who he favoured for the title.

Nobody, but nobody was prepared for what followed. The French man dissolved into a smile of content and delight, declaring it to be a beautiful game, adding he would be watching the final with interest.

He had never been a follower, he admitted, and one suspects he never watched a game in his life, but it was obvious he was bewitched by the play and no doubt while the euro collapses around him he will be found replaying the World Cup.

Wonder what he will make of the dramatic behaviour of his fellow countrymen who, in true Gallic fashion, threw tantrums and went on strike before skulking home in defeat.

He may conclude that their excitability is due to France’s higher than average toxoplasmosis parasite infection rate.

People who eat raw and undercooked meat or who live close to cats are more likely to be infected by this parasite. It can alter the levels of dopamine and is associated with higher levels of excitability, schizophrenia, neuroticism — and now winning World Cups.

Neuroscientist Patrick House says the countries with the highest infection rates win their matches most often. In the 2006 World Cup, seven of the eight knockout-round winners had higher toxo rates than their competitors, except for Brazil’s defeat of Ghana — both equally and highly infected.

All eight that made it through to this year’s knockout rounds had higher infection rates than their competitors. Of course a good team is essential too — as those countries with astronomical rates of toxo but poor teams show — and England and Italy at the lower end of the toxo infection scale prove.


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