“Everybody likes the underdog, because everybody feels like the underdog. No matter how successful you are, you always think, No one’s being nice enough to me!” -Kate Beckinsale
This year’s Soccer World Cup has been riveting as the upsets between highly seeded countries and the lower ranked has continued to surprise everyone in almost every bracket. Perhaps none has been so discussed as the recent tie between the US and Slovenija. Certainly the outrageous call in the last minutes of the game, eliminating the possibility of a win for the US has kept the name of the least populous country playing at the competition on everyone’s mind. I am sure when the US and England first looked at the group they felt lucky, neither one of the other countries seemed much of a threat.
The team captain, Robert Koren said “When we are on the pitch, we are not thinking how small we are, we are coming to this World Cup like underdogs, but we will be up for it.” This is a sentiment that many Slovenes share not only about soccer, but about the amazing achievements that this small country, the size of New Jersey with just over 2 million people share about their team and their homeland. An independent nation for just under 20 years now, Slovenija has already produced Olympic champions and a few star basketball players. They are a nation of hard workers who have a lot of heart.
Slovenija is home to my husband’s family, who has lived on the same piece of land for the last 700 years. My kids know the scenic, small country as a second home for the many summers we spent there, their second cousins who still Facebook them and a cultural identity that they treasure. Rather than embarrassment about the fact that few people ever recognized their heritage or our destination, the children have taken pride in their ancestry and have all used it as the substance of their identity at the middle school cultural fair.
Everyone in my house was up at the crack of dawn to watch as Slovenija went up 2-0 against the US. As much as I wanted Slovenija to win- I didn’t want them to be the team to eliminate the US from the competition. But tomorrow the deed will be decided as all four countries play in their final game to determine who goes forward. We all like to root for the underdog because in some way we all identify with being the under dog. There is something raw and true about having the guts to defy the odds, and the most unforgettable victories are always the ones that are won with sheer will power. The Slovene midfielder, Valter Birsa, said recently ; “Sometimes soccer is not played only with the legs but also with the heart and the head. Friendship is sometimes bigger than star players, and I think that put us in the World Cup.” Classic Slovenija.