One week into the men’s football World Cup. I am already tired of the "Germans don't do well in Russia hyuk hyuk" humour (to say nothing of the Argentina-couldn’t-even-possess-the-Falkland Islands joxx). Comparing sports and war is old and tiresome, but I get it folks, you'd rather be talking tactics on a football field than Flanders field.
However, if you have to make historical analogies, at least expand your horizons a bit.
I'm a football dope but a history nerd, so I've compiled a handy list of historical battles to make analogies from when these countries take the field over the next three weeks. Given the planet's messy history, some should just be retired or preferably, never used. So: here are five battles people should totally be using as comic material and five they should totally not.
South Korea and Japan : Battle of Myeongnyang, 1598
IRL: These days they do battle over pop music and consumer electronics (mostly), but in the 16th century, Japan's obsession with invading Korea had gone well beyond merely unhealthy. They were succeeding too, as infighting and treachery meant that the Chosun fleet was down to 12 ships or so, and the Japanese had their full complement of hundreds. It was all down to one of the greatest admirals in history, Yu Sun Shin to make use of his knowledge of the tides, currents and coastline to lure the Japanese fleet into a deadly ambush and destroy them in one early morning's work.
They probably won’t meet in this tournament, but if they ever do, think of this as: South Korea fire their star manager before their game, concede five goals and lose six players to injury by half time. In a shock decision, the manager is brought back in the second half, comes up with a brilliant tactic that sees them eventually hammer in six goals. Japan doesn't play football for the next 200 years.
Japan and Russia: The Battle of Tsushima Straits, 1905
IRL: As battles go, this one has “historic” all over it. Asian nation beats giant European power on the high seas? Check. Naval tactics around the world undergo a total revolution? Check. Nationalists across Asia decide these European types are not so superior after all? Check. The Tsar of Russia's legitimacy and power stand eroded beginning the fall of the monarchy? Check.
If they ever met: Japan scores two goals in the first three minutes, Russia spends the next 80 minutes in their own half, finally make a concerted attempt at the Japanese goal and miss. The Japanese counter-attack results in three goals in the last five minutes. Vladimir Putin is overthrown.
Spain and Germany: Meeting at Hendaye, 1940
IRL: While most countries needed bombs and bullets to stop the Nazi war machine, Spain did it with inertia and duplicity. Franco was a fascist but stayed neutral in the Second World War. In a bid to persuade him, Adolf Hitler personally paid him a visit in Hendaye to convince him to throw his lot fully with the Nazis, but no dice.
In some future group stage: With France eliminated from the World Cup, Germany and Spain intend to conspire to keep England out as well. A German win will send both Spain and Germany through except that Spain simply spends most of the 90 minutes playing for a draw. In the end, Germany loses.
England and Egypt: The Suez crisis
IRL: England, France and Israel sneak-attacked Egypt, breaking promises of neutrality, after Gamel Abdel Nasser nationalised the Anglo-French owned Suez Canal company. The perfidy prompted a rare bit of US-USSR unity even as the Cold War was heating up elsewhere. International diplomatic pressure (with an assist from Jawaharlal Nehru) meant that Egypt kept its canal, and the European troops dispersed.
If they ever met: England insist that Mohamed Salah actually play for them because he earns more by playing their Premier League. The Egyptians refuse and mount a strong guard outside their hotel to prevent a kidnapping. The English conspire to kidnap Salah but Russian police manage to stop them, making them return Salah to the hotel. The actual game is a goalless draw. Gareth Southgate, England coach, is fired. Héctor Cúper, Egypt coach, becomes a national hero.
Denmark and Sweden:
IRL: You'd think two rich, happy and prosperous Scandinavian countries wouldn't have much to fight over since the Vikings passed. LOL. Just the list of Dano-Swedish wars over the previous millennium makes Indo-Pak relations in the last century seem friendly. Everything from a sum of 6000 francs to a Grand Alliance against Napoleon has been casus belli for these two jocks.
If they ever meet: A shockingly long and bitter battle that sees a lot of red cards. It ends in a goalless draw. Russia wins the World Cup in the end by beating France, but England's the "real" winner.
DO NOT USE:
Iran and Saudi Arabia: Latest edition of 1300 year conflict manipulating Shias and Sunnis? HARD PASS.
France, Germany, England in any combination : Look, the poetry may be good. Blackadder Goes Forth, great. But all those trenches, and mud and meaningless slaughter (that leaves Turkey, Iraq and millions of brown people out of the picture)? Bye.
Any European country versus Any of its former colonies: NO. Just NO.
Switzerland v Any country: There's peace-loving and then there's “boringly neutral because we can make money from all of them.” Yawn.
Tunisia v Italy: Carthage v/s Rome! Cannae! Zama! Elephants across the Alps. The historical analogies overflow. They’ll just have to wait for many years to come. Because one of these teams did not make it to this World Cup, and it wasn’t Hannibal’s.
Finally, if we must dunk on Germany, let's be thankful that in the present draw, there's no possibility of any games between Russia and Germany at Volgograd - better known as Stalingrad.
Alok Prasanna Kumar is a lawyer based in Bengaluru.
Photo Credit: Fifa World Cup
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