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Finding Soccer's Universal Light In Bitter Defeat

After the heartbreaking loss to host Brazil, a diehard Chile fan ponders the real meaning of the World Cup in a world with so much else to worry about.

Chile's fans react to their team's defeat against Brazil
Chile's fans react to their team's defeat against Brazil
Elías Selman Lutz*

SANTIAGO — I've been lying in bed all afternoon, face down, almost choking — for a bitterness I can barely describe. It was that almost goal in minute 119 in the match to qualify for the World Cup quarterfinals. My only consolation, after losing to host Brazil in a penalty shootout, is the pride I feel for the team of Chileans that represented us in Belo Horizonte.

I may be writing this to distract myself, who knows? Why do I feel like this if it is only soccer? How would my life have really changed had Chile won? What the hell is it about the sport of futbol that can make a whole country go into mourning? To make players like Gary Medel and Arturo Vidal risk their young careers to give everything for their country? What on earth makes people with no tickets run up untold amounts of debt to travel 4,000 kilometers to be near their team?

Many will say it's irrational, or that soccer is the opiate of the masses. But these rational if simple explanations make no sense to me. And even if I can't find an answer to my questions, I think there is something much more profound and powerful to this game.

The only remedy

Often I don't know how to answer the anti-soccer arguments attacking the simplicity or superficial nature of these depressive states induced by the game, when there is so much poverty, war, death and discrimination in the world. Clearly I agree that these problems are much more important than any sport.

Now, with a little more serenity, I think I have an answer. The importance I give to soccer is ironically centered around its very simplicity. The value of soccer is in that abstract ability that allows all sorts of people to turn away from their problems for 90 minutes.

More important still is its unifying potential, the attachment to the 23 players was felt by a great many Chileans, both for the initial victories and the defeat against Brazil. As seldom happens, millions of Chileans shared moments of joy and sadness together, and this is rare in our increasingly fragmented society. Soccer goes beyond the social and political distinctions that provoke so much hate in our country.

That is why I believe the game does indeed have something to teach us: the ability to work together, unrelenting effort, defending those close to you and tolerating practically anything from your companions, whatever their social class, sexual orientation or race, just for being compatriots, companions and friends.

I may be stumbling onto clichés in seeking meaning for the bitterness of that day. But today more than ever, I think soccer is the only remedy for the soccer blues.

*Elías Selman Lutz is a student in commercial engineering at the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile.

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