El Tri election: From the pitch to the polls

Game of Our Lives, the football podcast from Al Jazeera, is covering the goals, triumphs, tragedies, and politics of the 2018 World Cup.

    Forty-eight matches, 122 goals, and a record-breaking eight own goals. The World Cup has moved to the round of 16.

    The past two weeks have been full of upsets, underdog victories and utter disasters - including a 2-0 loss for the reigning champions, Germany, to South Korea.

    The only thing at stake for the South Korean national team in the match was pride, as they were set to finish last in their group. But for El Tri, the Mexican national team, South Korea's victory over Germany was just enough to guarantee their advance into the next round.

    The match united fans from both teams in a manner that only the World Cup could accomplish: Mexico's fans cheered South Korea throughout the last minutes of the match, and after the game, fans in Mexico City sang and cheered outside the South Korean embassy.

    Needless to say, Mexico is riding high into the round of 16 next week - and into the polls on Sunday. As leftist Andes Manuel Lopez Obrador and conservative candidate Ricardo Anaya face off in the country's presidential race, Game of Our Lives takes a look at the influence of football on electoral politics.

    "What if Mexico had actually gone out at this stage?" asks host David Goldblatt.

    "What if the South Koreans had failed to score those goals? Is it possible to imagine that the depression, the disappointment in Mexico might have affected the national mood?"

    In a new episode of the podcast, Goldblatt takes a look back at the 1970 World Cup, which he watched on two TVs in his dad's living room, and plays out some what-ifs about football, elections, and the future of global politics.

    Then, he looks ahead to another politics-and-football showdown between two "masters of the dark arts" - Sergio Ramos and Vladimir Putin.

    Read an excerpt from the conversation between Goldblatt and co-host Tony Karon, and listen to the full episode in the player above.

    David Goldblatt: Tony, did Germany's early departure bring you the kind of deep profound football joy that it brought me?

    Tony Karon: Well it did. It brought mixed emotions though because on the one hand, as somebody who's followed the game for decades, you know this is nothing we've seen in our lifetime. And that is thrilling because it reminds us that nothing is settled in a football match and at a World Cup. And that's fantastic because it keeps us interested. On the other hand we do know that when a political idea is projected onto a football team, in this case the idea of German success through integrating immigrants, then when that team fails, like what happened to France a few years ago, the far right jumps on that as a way of bashing immigrants and saying you see it doesn't work.

    Goldblatt: And are we seeing any examples of that?

    Karon: Absolutely. The final whistle had hardly gone when the spokesperson for the AfD (the Alternative for Deutschland), the far right anti-immigrant party, basically tweets: 'This is on Ozil and Erdogan must be happy.' He's blaming this on Turkey.

    Goldblatt: Extraordinary. Immediately it becomes a kind-of lightning conductor for these wider political and ethnic issues. And it does strike me; Germany is returning home not merely in a very different state sporting wise from a World Cup, but back to a very different Germany. In 2014, they returned as champions. [Angela] Merkel's rule seemed secure, placid, the great bastion of a kind-of liberalism and sense in European politics, and the German economy is still doing OK - it's lording it over Europe. And here, four years later, Merkel is very close to losing power. Certainly massively weak, and forced, hugely on the defensive by the migration crisis, and the response of a lot of the public to the migration crisis in Germany. It's a completely different feel for this German team, I think, once they get beyond ethnic finger pointing. Is there anything you saw Tony that made you think it wasn't a surprise that they went out the way they did?

    Karon: Well the one thing you could point to is that there's a precedent here. It's become almost common, almost traditional, that a European country that wins the World Cup fails to get out of the group stage at the following World Cup. We've seen that happen to France. We've seen that happen to Spain. We've seen that happen to Italy. You know, this is not untraditional and you think in some ways there's a motivation issue. It's like, you've reached that emotional peak to win it the first time, how do you get there the second time? And you could see there was a real complacency in this German team - a real expectation that things will go their way because they always do. And suddenly it was like panic stations because there are not.

    Goldblatt: I must say I took particular pleasure from Manuel Neuer playing in midfield and looking like he was absolutely loving it right at the end, and then being caught on the ball and completely out foxed and giving a goal away.

    Karon: Absolutely.

    Goldblatt: Now, I derived an extraordinary amount of joy and pleasure from Germany losing, but Mexican fans had a much more vested interest in South Korea winning. I mean they were relying on that to actually get them through to the next round. As a consequence we have had across the globe outpourings of solidarity between Mexicans and Koreans.

    Listen to the full episode in the player above, and subscribe to the show on Apple Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts.

    You can also listen on the Game of Our Lives Facebook. Follow the show on Twitter @gameofourlives.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera News


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