After one month and 64 soccer matches, the World Cup ends with the championship match this Sunday. Plenty of Southern California fans have followed the series. For one L.A. fan passion and intellect go hand in hand with World Cup viewing.
Jorge Leal claims that in spite of work and personal relationships, he’s watched every single World Cup game so far. I put the 33-year-old to the test. With a list in hand, I pick games at random. First an easy one, June 11.
"That was the first game, the inaugural game. I went to El Huarache Azteca in Highland Park. I was there with some high school friends of mine that I hadn’t seen in a while so it was a great opportunity to see some of my friends. The game itself left a lot to be desired by Mexico."
Mexico tied one to one against South Africa, the low-ranked host country. I turn up the heat: Sunday, June 13. "Serbia versus Ghana, yes, Serbia versus Ghana, hold on a second. Ghana scored, Ghana won on a penalty kick."
He named the player who scored the goal. Only the most devout fans know much about the June 25 match between North Korea and the Ivory Coast. "It was the most irrelevant game there was, and I was watching it on my computer next to my TV because at the same time there was the Brazil against Portugal game," he said.
Jorge Leal is a native of Guadalajara, Mexico. I have a hunch the June 27 game Mexico lost to Argentina reminds him of heartbreak. "I have to say that has been the hardest game to watch and to lose. I’m not going to deny it, I cried. I wanted my dad next to me… …It was a profound sense of sadness, impotence, and frustration," he said.
Because, Leal says, he knew Argentina fielded a better squad but he and other Mexicans thought this time their team would advance. He’s watched games with Koreans in Koreatown, Argentinians in Glendale, Chileans on Melrose Avenue, and sports bar patrons in Whittier, Pasadena and downtown L.A.
Recently, Leal panicked. A mandatory training at his job coincided with the semifinals match between Spain and Germany. He appealed to his supervisor for mercy. "I didn’t want to lie, I said, I have to watch this game, it’s the semifinal, it only happens every four years. And if I don’t watch it I’ll be heartbroken."
So he settled in to a bright red vinyl chair at Johnny Rockets at the Petersen Museum. Leal works as a gallery educator across the street, at the L.A. County Museum of Art. He's catching the second half of a key match in a series that’s the epitome of internationalism at a diner that’s the epitome of Americana.
I show Leal an e-mail from a friend who sarcastically wrote that he’s rooting for Spain - because historically, it’s been better at fascism than Germany. Leal laughs. "He does have a point. Rooting for another country that is not your own gets to be quite a complex, and tricky and conflictive. As I said, I’m rooting for the Dutch however, the Boers and Afrikkaaners are descendants of the Dutch in South Africa and we know that they were the minority behind apartheid," Leal said.
Leal’s fanaticism combines a keen knowledge of soccer, World Cup history, geopolitics, and popular culture. All fed by his research toward a masters degree in history at Cal State Northridge. He posts daily about the World Cup on Facebook and on a separate blog.
He explained in a June 22 posting that he’d root for the U.S. to beat Algeria because he was proud of the American squad’s multicultural mix of players, whereas the Algerian team consisted mostly of carpetbaggers - French citizens of Algerian descent.
He posted about the busty Paraguayan model who promised to bare it all in her capital city if Paraguay won the World Cup. And about Paul, the German octopus that’s accurately predicted the outcome of six matches in this World Cup.
Ryan Yerton, a fellow Cal State Northridge masters student, says Leal’s a very different sports aficionado than the Dodgers and Lakers fans she grew up with. "Jorge has his team, but he just talks about it in such a way that it can, it can really get you excited about the sport because, to be honest, I had absolutely no interest in soccer, you know, but he just gets you so excited about it. And he just posts, like I said, really great cultural events, or places to view the games."
Not everyone agrees. Jorge Leal says he’ll have to make up with a group of Uruguayan friends upset that he didn’t show Latin American solidarity by backing the South American squad.
Before that, for Sunday’s final game, Leal plans to end his World Cup watching in another dimension. He’s gathered a group of friends to watch the game in 3-D at a West L.A. theater. "I wanted to do it all, you know, to be able to watch it everywhere, starting on the couch in my house to a big movie theater with a 3-D, IMAX sound, all that, the bells and whistles."
Monday will be a withdrawal day for him. He and others plan to nurse their hangovers from the quadrennial festival of soccer, international competition and camaraderie.