How the World Cup found its fans on Alden Street

Patrick Fergus

The FIFA World Cup is the most popular sporting event in the world. Thirty-two countries all vie for the title of world champion. The World Cup is in full swing and the excitement surrounding the event has spread to Springfield, with students from all over the planet supporting their home nations.

Although the World Cup is shrouded in controversy over the selection of the host nation, Qatar, the actual games have provided fans of the sport with some of the most exciting action they’ve ever seen on an international level. Early favorites like Germany and Belgium have already been eliminated, while the underdog stories of countries like Morocco and South Korea have captured the hearts of many viewers.

In the United States, the substantial impact of the tournament is often swept under the rug by more popular sports like the NFL, NCAA football and the NBA. However, Springfield is home to a plethora of international students – like Wycliffe Acquah, who was born and raised in Accra, the capital city of Ghana. The stark contrast between the World Cup and its significance in the U.S. as opposed to Ghana surprised Acquah.

“There is an entirely different mood of joy for the whole country when the World Cup comes’s a huge deal [in Ghana],” Acquah said. “Not so much here.”

Businesses would close early and Ghana flags would fly from every building on every street, Acquah said. Accra, one of the biggest and most populous cities in the country, would host large watch parties with millions of people repping jerseys of their favorite players. Even people who aren’t typically into soccer – or football, as people in Ghana call it -– gather together in support of their team and their country.

“In Ghana, football is the only general game everyone likes, and it’s played rarely, so when they are actually playing everyone wants to watch,” Acquah said, discerning the difference since coming to America: “Well, (here) it’s been very different. It’s hard to even tell when they are playing.”

A similar feeling is shared by Marc Villanueva, an avid supporter of the Spanish national team. Villaneuva, a first-year tennis player at Springfield, has always been heavily invested in soccer.

“It’s a religion,” said Villanueva, who has been fervently watching every single game and is confident in the young Spanish team’s chances in the tournament. “We have a very young team, but everyone is very talented and well coached.”

The World Cup also has a certain power of drawing in people who have never followed the sport before. Xavier Aitelmajouh, a senior on the wrestling team, had never watched soccer before, but has been captivated by the games.

Born and raised in the U.S., he has supported the USMNT as well as Morocco, the home of his parents and the darlings of the tournament thus far. Aitelmajouh has appreciated the kind of passion fans have expressed for their countries, and the kind of environment that a watch party provides.

“The celebrations and watching of the games, everyone coming together and watching the best in the world competing against each other, is definitely my favorite part,” Aitelmajouh said.

With the knockout stage officially underway, the games will continue to have bigger stakes and more legendary moments. The likes of Messi and Ronaldo are still fighting for the World Cup trophy, and it’s safe to say the world – and Springfield College –will be watching.

Photos from Springfield Student/Patrick Fergus

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