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Europe Unified, by Soccer

The Euro 2012 tournament displays a continent integrated and diverse—despite the other euro’s woes

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The German team lines up behind a children’s soccer team on June 17, 2012, in Lviv, Ukraine. (Joern Pollex/Getty Images)

Want a glimpse into Europe’s future? Just look at the Euro. I don’t mean the currency that was supposed to unite the continent and ended up dividing it; I mean the soccer tournament that was supposed to pit one nation against another and ended up painting a much rosier and more complicated portrait of Europe than anyone might have expected.

For those readers who are hopelessly American in their predilections, the Euro—currently in its quarterfinals, being hosted this year in Poland and Ukraine—is among the sport’s most closely watched tournaments, second only to the World Cup. And like all great sporting events, the Euro, too, is about much more than kicks and goals: It’s about the members of the uneasily unified continent stepping up, vying for power, and showing what they’re made of. It’s epic stuff.

I became interested in soccer around the time of my 13th birthday, and I followed my first Euro with a sense of religious duty far greater than the one with which I approached my bar mitzvah studies. Reading about Moses was one thing, but watching Marco van Basten, the Dutch superstar, volley to defeat the hated USSR in the finals of the 1988 tournament was a far more sublime experience. I was hooked, and I’ve been a fan of the game ever since.

Watching the current competition, the first thing that comes to mind is the first thing that meets the eye: The teams look very different than they did 24 years ago. Back then, with very few exceptions, you hardly needed to look at the uniform to know, say, that Lothar Matthäus was German, or that Gary Lineker played for England. Silly as it may sound, they looked the part, as if the central casting of sport stereotypes chose them to evoke the uncomplicated and immediately recognizable image of their nation. The German team of Euro 2012, on the other hand, features Jérôme Boateng, whose father emigrated from Ghana; Sami Khedira, whose father emigrated from Tunisia; Mario Gómez, who holds dual German and Spanish citizenship; and the amazing Mesut Özil, perhaps my favorite contemporary player, who is a third-generation Turkish-German and a devout Muslim who recites a few verses of the Quran before going out on the pitch. Most other teams in the tournament look and feel equally diverse, a sign, perhaps, that no matter Europe’s political and economic tribulations, its fate as a mixed-up, multiethnic entity has already been cemented.

Not that national characteristics have altogether disappeared: Germany is still a highly disciplined, unassuming, tremendously efficient team, the English are still physical and fond of long passes, and Italy still plays the sort of weasely, defense-heavy, and diving-prone soccer that has provoked the ire of so many fans around the world. If soccer indeed explains the world, it’s again busy telling us that a national identity and a global sensibility needn’t cancel each other out.

But while life on the pitch is promising, the goings-on off-stage, in the host countries, are troubling. The Ukrainian town of Lviv, for example, gained less attention for its featured soccer matches than it did for a crass Jewish-themed restaurant, where diners are encouraged to haggle for the price of the meal, and another bar that is decorated to celebrate the Ukrainian Insurgent Army, an ultra-nationalist historic militia that initially enthusiastically collaborated with the Nazis. European journalists visiting Ukraine and Poland report the lingering presence of anti-Semitic sentiments. The Croatian Football Association was fined 25,000 euros after its fans threw a banana into the pitch and chanted racists slurs directed at Italy’s forward, Mario Bolatelli, who is black. Russian and Polish fans clashed violently in the streets of Warsaw before their teams played each other earlier this month. And a host of European officials chose to ban the tournament to protest the arrest on trumped up charges of the former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko. The Los Angeles Times’ Kevin Baxter put it best: “This was supposed to be the East Bloc’s coming-out party, one that burnished its image and welcomed it into the community of nations as a full partner,” he wrote. “Instead it’s turned into a costly embarrassment that could further isolate the region.”

And what about us? Commentators are frequently fond of observing that America’s obliviousness to the sport that is so ardently revered everywhere else in the world is proof of the last remaining superpower’s arrogance and isolationism. But the Beautiful Game seems to be changing all that: According to the latest Nielsen ratings, ESPN’s broadcasts of the Euro games have seen a triple-digit increase from the last tournament, in 2008, with viewership now hitting the 2 million mark.

I’m among those glued to every game. And this time around, delighted by the tournament’s Benetton ad sensibilities, I can finally come out and cheer for the team with which I’ve been secretly infatuated for decades: Germany.

It was love at first sight. The first time I saw coach Franz Beckenbauer’s boys, I fell madly in love with them. Back then, they played for a nation called West Germany, and I lived in a country called Israel, which meant there was no way I could just put on a T-shirt with a German flag on it and tell my friends—at least two of them the children or grandchildren of Holocaust survivors—that I considered precise set pieces reason enough to overlook that whole series of unfortunate events that transpired between 1939 and 1945. I pledged my allegiance to England—not a much better choice, what with the whole British Mandate business—but took great pleasure every time the Germans triumphed. Soon enough, however, West Germany became Germany, and Europe became a lot more like the United States; winners of the 1998 World Cup, the French team was so ethnically diverse that Jean-Marie Le Pen vilely protested that the boys on the pitch did not look sufficiently French. This openness made for much better soccer; hopefully, in the long run, it’ll make for much better politics as well. Until then, I’ll be loudly rooting for Özil and Khedira and Lamm and Boateng and Gómez and Schweinsteiger, black and brown and blond, all of them Germany’s proud sons.


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PhillipNagle says:

What has LL been smoking? While he did indicate in the article some of the nationalism and hate generated by the games he views them as a unifying experience. Wrong! The games have engendered massive nationalism and past grevences which is not suprising. For some reason soccer seems to breed violence. In at least one case it has caused a war. It has been the cause of countless riots. British fans (aka hooligans) have been banned from the “continent”. This is another foreign import that we would be well not have.

As far as I know there hasn’t been much violence ( apart from the russian polish fights before their match last week, and that wasn’t unsuspected to put it mildly) on the contrary everyone seems to get along very well. If anything it started at the VM in Germany in 2006, which was an incredible warm experience. Of course on the stadium fans are rough, but thats is a part of the game ( as the danish spectators yelling Messi when the Portuguese Ronaldo received the ball), but the irish team singing Fields of Athenry and the end of their defeat against Spain summons it all up. Support for their own team and respect for the winning team, ( and even if the winning team is Germany). It was much worse a generation ago. – And whats wrong with nationalism in small doses. Without it the EU is just a boring bunch of technocrats.
The is of course someone who doesn’t get it. In Guardian CIF section a british muslim wrote that he couldn’t be a fan of the english team because some of the fans wore knights dress with St George’s Cross,it reminded him about the crusades (!!!) well as Carly Simon did it ‘you are so vain , you think the song is about you’ , ( and then remember that both Barcelona, and Real Madrid has changed their logo at least somewhere in the world – they have removed the cross ) .

Miha Ahronovitz says:

Like Liel, I watch every game. The TV is in my office. Indeed the German team is multicultural rainbow and this is really great. Today Germany won 4:2 against Greece, in quarter-finals. Actually the Greece previous victory against Russia created an euphoria, that lead to elections favorable for settlement in Europe. Ms. Merkel, the Chancellor was in the audience of Germany – Greece match. She — or La Signora No in Italy — holds the key to give Greece a favorable rescue package from their economic crisis. If someone says this anticipated softening of Germany’s attitude towards Greece has nothing to do with soccer EURO 2012, I will not believe a word of it.

Moshan says:

I agree. I just hope Israel’s national team will reflect the diversity too. We need more African immigrants in Israel, just like we need in Europe, it will improve Israel’s politics too. You’re right on this. And I hope you’ll work just as hard for Israel’s sake as you do for Europe. Because surely nobody would want to accuse you of hypocrisy.

Natan79 says:

Listen Leibovitz, it’s sight not site. Your lack of grammar knowledge is disgusting, especially coming from a New York University journalism professor. No wonder journalists are idiotic. When you are going to talk about “in recent memory”?

MORE PROOF THEY’RE NOT REAL JEWS AND THE ISRAEL THEY SET UP WAS NOT ORDAINED BY THE LORD. “That then the LORD thy God will turn thy captivity, and have compassion upon thee, and WILL RETURN and gather thee from all the nations, whither the LORD thy God hath scattered thee.” —Deuteronomy 30:3

Please read that again… WILL RETURN!!! God promised to regather Israel only when HE RETURNS! As difficult as it is for some people to accept, the nation of Israel today was not placed there by God. Certainly, God in His permissive and sovereign will allowed it, but the restoration of Israel to their Promised Land won’t happen until Jesus returns after the 7-year Tribulation Period. Of course, Biblically the Rapture will occur BEFORE the Tribulation Period begins.'s%20Corner/Doctrines/israel.htm#3

DEAN BERRY MINISTRIES: “When a government outlaws ‘terrorism’, it’s planning something for which ‘terrorism’ is the only recourse. Obviously.”

JamesPhiladelphia says:

“unfortunate events between 1939-1945″ ………..

Well senior writer for Tablet Magazine……he loves the German team…….

I don’t. They are dressed with the colors of the SS. Each of them has the face of a German nazi. Except the Black players.

Best playing teams are Spain and always Argentina. Best playing soccer. Best soccer player Messi, of course Argentinian from Rosario city.

JamesPhiladelphia says:

And Leibovitz has his priorities upside down, well self hatred is not exclusive. He was then in Israel, he is now here, he loves the Germans and is senior writer for a Jewish magazine.

JamesGarbarzewich says:

Two days later Italy defeats Germany. To my extreme delight.

BTW soccer is not that popular in the USA not because of arrogance of power, as you said some say. Simply soccer is low scoring and for some boring. Once in a while you get matches that are superbly exciting like the Italy Germany from yesterday. Once Italy scored early 30 minutes from start Germany went to pieces, Italy played and dominated brilliantly. The second goal was scored close to the end of the first half. The Italian scorer is a black player. Controversial but brilliant. Sunday will be the final Italy versus Spain. They played early and tied. Both teams are brilliant. Hopefully it will be a fantastic match. Presently Nadal just lost in Wimbledon , I hope doesn’t affect the Spaniards. Spain are soccer World Cup champs and European Cup champs. But now I have seen Italy and Spain play superb. BTW the woman head og Germany was not at this game, for a change I would have enjoyed her annoyance as when Greece tied Germany in the previous game. It was obvious that when Greece decided to be aggressive they succeeded. Well Ms Markell is controlling the money Greece desperately needs. Spain and Italy are also in money banking trouble. However in soccer they are superior to Germany. And that is the way it goes. Farshteistu Leiv? Ata meimin Leiv.? Sad that your German team you like so much lost. Still they remind me of Gestapo , specially their black and white uniforms. I kept singing Germany under alles .

JamesGarbarzewich says:

Balotely was the Black Italian scorer of two goals against Germany. Suuuuuuuuperb.

JamesGarbarzewich says:

This is for Leiv Leibovitz information

Mario Balotelli: The Jewish Hero of Euro 2012?
Tras la visita a Auschwitz, dos goles de un judío sacan a Alemania de la Copa Europea (en Inglés)
Italian star adopted by Jewish parents.
Por: Sammy Hudes
Vie Jun 29 2012 (9 Tammuz, 5772)
Mario Balotelli’s two goals on Thursday didn’t just propel his Italian squad past Germany and into the Euro 2012 finals to face Spain while setting off a wild celebration of Italian supporters, but his performance was also a source of nachas for the worldwide Jewish population. For a religion that never shies away from acknowledging its own prominent celebrities, the Italian soccer hero and Manchester City striker is no doubt an unlikely, but now very much appreciated and welcomed member of the Tribe. Balotelli, in fact, wasn’t born Jewish. He was born to Ghanaian immigrants in Sicily in 1990, and as an infant suffered from life-threatening health complications. With his family unable to provide him with the proper medical assistance, he was put up for adoption at two years old and entrusted to Francesco and Silvia Balotelli, his Jewish foster parents. The Balotellis were a white family who lived in a villa in a small village near Brescia, in northern Italy. At first, he stayed at the Balotellis during the week and returned to his family on weekends. He eventually grew closer to his foster family and took their surname. Two days before the start of Euro 2012, he and his Italian teammates paid a visit to Auschwitz. There, Balotelli sat by himself on the train tracks and appeared more struck than anyone else on his team by the surroundings, according to journalists. Throughout the tournament, Balotelli has coped with being the victim of racist abuse, as Italian neo-Nazis have spread hateful messages on the internet claiming he should not be allowed to play for Italy due to his background. “Balotelli’s black and Jewish. He should play for Israel not Italy,” wrote a US-based website called Stormfront, run by white supremacists. The website was closed down in Italy by Jewish authorities following complaints regarding racist posts about the Italian striker.

Italy’s coach Cesare Prandelli called the racism “a social problem”rather than “an Italian problem.” After Balotelli vowed to walk off the pitch prior to the tournament if he suffers racist chanting, Prandelli declared that “if Mario gets any problem, I will give him a big hug on the pitch.” During the tearful visit to Auschwitz, Balotelli told his teammates about a box of letters that his Jewish adoptive mother, Silvia, kept underneath her bed. On Thursday, he dedicated his two-goal match against Germany to Silvia. “At the end of the game when I went to my mother, that was the best moment. I told her these goals were for her,” he said. “I waited a long time for this moment, especially as my mother is not young anymore and can’t travel far, so I had to make her happy when she came all the way here.”

La Dirección y Consejo Editorial de “Foro Judío”, no se hacen responsables de los contenidos de artículos firmados por autores, periodistas o sus seudónimos, a la vez que el autor de este artículo no se responsabiliza de los contenidos de las diferentes secciones de esta WEB, ni de los criterios establecidos por su Dirección o Consejo Editorial.

Rickey Henderson: “El Rey del Robo”
Vie Jun 29 2012 10:10:30 (9 Tammuz, 5772)
La Mannschaft fuera de la Euro: Crónica Alemania vs Italia
Jue Jun 28 2012 13:45:36 (8 Tammuz, 5772)
Crónica Portugal vs España
Jue Jun 28 2012 09:12:09 (8 Tammuz, 5772)
Noticias Curiosas sobre la Eurocopa 2012
Mie Jun 27 2012 17:05:17 (7 Tammuz, 5772)
Sarah Hughes, Campeona Olímpica de Patinaje Artístico Sobre Hielo
Mie Jun 27 2012 10:32:47 (7 Tammuz, 5772)

    Yaw Mandy says:

    I am a Ghanaian. I lived in Englewood, New Jersey.
    And I am Reaganite Republican-I just can’t stand Demo-Rats. I Love to read everything about Jewish people, and that is why I read Tabletmag and everyday! I never knew that Mario’s adopted parents were Jews!


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Europe Unified, by Soccer

The Euro 2012 tournament displays a continent integrated and diverse—despite the other euro’s woes

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