Friday, September 18, 2009

The Minnow and the Whales

You need to know three important facts about me: 1) I'm a huge fan of global soccer, 2) I'm eagerly awaiting next summer's World Cup competition, which I think is a fascinating example of globalization, and 3) My favorite Middle Eastern country is Bahrain (ever since our family got to live and work there for almost a year in 2004 and 2005). (By the way, Bahrain was the subject of an interesting New York Times story today, focusing on the village where we lived, called A'Ali.)

What's the point here?

Well, Bahrain is still in the running to qualify for the World Cup. All they have to do is beat New Zealand in their two-game, home-and-away series and they are in (albeit, by the back door). It's possible, since the international soccer association, FIFA, ranks Bahrain 64th in the world right now, whereas they rank New Zealand at 100. Now, these rankings don't mean a thing; the guys in red (Bahrain) will have to win on the field. But our family is unashamedly rooting for them like crazy.

We're cheering for Bahrain for two reasons. First, we watched them play back in 2004 and 2005 when they were trying to qualify for the 2006 Cup, and we had tons of fun doing it. We lived right across from the stadium where the national team played, where admission was free, so we'd stroll over and join the masses. If you've never been to a real international soccer match, where people play the drums and sing the entire game, then you've missed out on some real fun.

Secondly, Bahrain is officially the smallest nation still in the running for the Cup. I checked the standings over at the FIFA website and the NationMaster website and it looks like the small West African state of Gabon is the next smallest state in terms of population that could qualify. Gabon is ranked 151st in terms of population, with around 1.5 million people, while Bahrain is ranked 163rd, with just over 700,000.

To use the language of the global game, let's cheer for the little minnows that face the whales. New Zealand's population is just over 4 million, which makes them bigger than a minnow but smaller than a whale, more like a hoki. But if Bahrain gets past the Kiwis, they'll be facing some whales like Brazil (pop. 196,000,000) or the U.S. (pop. 303,000,000).

All power to the minnows.

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