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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 20 November 2018

The ugly side of picking teams in the World Cup

The big question, of course, is who I will pretend to support

Egypt's star player Mohamed Salah. Nariman El-Mofty / AP photo
Egypt's star player Mohamed Salah. Nariman El-Mofty / AP photo

There is an understanding in my family. My brother loves me. He loves me a lot. But he doesn’t love me quite as much as he loves Liverpool FC. I grew up surrounded by red-hued paraphernalia – Liverpool duvet covers, lamp shades, mugs and football kits. I learned early on not to make plans with my brother if “the Reds” were playing. And now that we are grown-ups and live in different countries, I keep an eye on match results just so I can gauge what kind of mood he will be in if I call for a chat. If Liverpool wins, we’re good; if they lose, I’m best off leaving it a few days. Needless to say, I’ve given him a wide berth since the Champions League final. I’m sure he’ll be fine in a month or two.

I have become strangely vested in the welfare of Mohamed Salah. His shoulder has become a genuine source of concern, as have his fashion choices (for the record, I took no offence at the sneaker-and-suit combo he and his team mates sported, much to the chagrin of the Twittersphere. In fact, it was an extremely fashion forward move – pairing formal wear with trainers is all the rage on the runways; just ask Gucci, Dior Homme or Dolce & Gabbana).

In short, I’m fully aware of the sway football holds. I understand the offside rule and have learned (the hard way) never to utter the words “It’s okay, it’s just a game” at the end of a match. I have mastered the ability to nod thoughtfully when conversations turn to transfer windows, classic 4-4-2 formations and defensive tactics. And I know just enough about the current state of the Premier League not to embarrass myself if dinner party conversation warrants my meagre contribution. If the company’s right, I might even throw in the fact that I studied in Manchester and my graduation party took place on the grounds of Old Trafford.

In truth, I suspect the whole thing is an elaborate ploy to give men a safe place where they can cry. Even in these enlightened times, there are few instances where it is socially acceptable for a grown man to blub – but I’ve seen plenty of fellows reduced to tears when a penalty shootout doesn’t go their way. Football is a conduit that allows men to channel and offload their emotions and, in that way, is probably an important social and cultural tool.

Nonetheless, I would never presume to call myself a fan. Which leaves me with a bit of a quandary for the coming month. There is a certain irony in the fact that this year’s World Cup 2018 is starting just as the full force of the UAE summer is starting to make itself felt. Friends with children are starting their annual exodus just as I am about to become a World Cup widow. At home, our du package has been extended to include Bein Sports, and I can’t imagine I’ll be able to go out anywhere in Dubai over the next few weeks without finding an enormous screen in my direct line of sight. Should any more of those dinner party conversations occur, they will invariably focus on events in Russia.

So there’s nothing for it. I’m going to have to become one of those annoying people who shows absolutely no interest in football any other time and then, every four years, suddenly turns into a diehard fan (also known as a hypocrite, in certain circles). I’ll start expounding my inexpert and unwelcome views on Salah’s fitness levels, whether Argentina’s Lionel Messi will get to lift this elusive cup before he retires from the international game, and whether Germany can recover from a slump in form to retain the title.

The big question, of course, is who I will pretend to support. My mixed heritage means there is no clear answer here. And since this is all hypothetical, it would be nice to try and back a winner. England would be the obvious choice but from what little I understand, that’s a direct route to heartbreak. The Brazilian fans always look like they’re having fun, but that might be a bit of an obvious choice. Belgium seems a little random. Egypt, perhaps, given my already ingrained appreciation of the team’s sartorial choices?

I may even shed a little tear when those penalties don’t work out how I’d like.

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Read more of Selina's thoughts:

The eternal quest for the perfect work-life balance

The dress failed to win me over – but Meghan Markle herself most certainly has

Ramadan offers us all the chance to reassess and reset

Paying tribute to the extraordinary life of my dad, the ultimate expat

Why eating meat makes me feel like a hypocrite

Phone etiquette? I need some guidelines please

After a decade, Dubai feels like it has come of age

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