Print and Go Back World Cup 2010 [Print without images]

Monday, July 5, 2010
Hey, Paraguay, are we good?

By Chris Jones
Special to

JOHANNESBURG (which, thankfully, is pretty far from Paraguay) -- So, my open letter to Paraguayans after their 1-0 loss against Spain the other night has generated a vitriolic response. You'd think I'd taken a shot at figure skating. Now that the story -- which poked a little gentle fun at the Paraguayans for their tendency to play really boring soccer -- has received more than 300 comments, I've decided it's time to respond to some of my ... fans?

But first, an e-mail from my dad:

"You know how much I love you? Enough to say that maybe now is the time for a mea culpa on the Paraguayan piece, even if it was tongue-in-cheek. What do you think?"

For those of you who don't know, "mea culpa" is Latin for "my bad." Now, part of me does want to apologize for the story, because I've never received that much hate mail over anything I've ever written, including the last time I made fun of Paraguay. But it was tongue-in-cheek, pretty obviously so. And Paraguayan soccer really is boring. Sorry, Dad, but I just can't back down on that. I love you, too. And try not to worry. The hate hasn't been that strong.

"Please go die."--fatTERP

See, Dad. He said "please."

"You have as much knowledge of Paraguay as any self-respecting 3-year-old!!! Here you go, have a cookie!"--dft_197

Wikipedia said nothing about Paraguay having cookies. That is awesome.

"This is the worst article I have read in a long time. This guy has very little football knowledge and does not understand or appreciate the strategies that small teams require to make it far in the World Cup."--jimmyhenns

OK, let's stop here for a moment. Covering the World Cup, I've been repeatedly slammed for my lack of soccer knowledge -- that if I can't see the beauty in a scoreless draw, then I just don't understand the game ... a game, incidentally, that I've played since I was 4 years old. As the proud son of a Welsh dad and an English mom, I grew up with soccer. It was our game. It still is. I still play, and it's by far my favorite sport.

But that doesn't mean I love boring soccer, and I don't believe that even insufferable soccer snobs do. Here is the stone-cold truth about Paraguay. In my original story, I said that I'd watched them for a combined 210 minutes and seen only one goal. I was actually being kind. In Paraguay's second group stage game, a very good 2-0 win over the Slovakians, Cristian Riveros scored in the 86th minute. Then Paraguay drew 0-0 with New Zealand. Then came another scoreless draw against Japan, which Paraguay won in a shootout. Then Paraguay finally lost 1-0 to Spain, failing to score even on a penalty shot. That means Paraguay went 304 minutes, plus stoppage time, without scoring and yet came within a whisker of the World Cup semifinals. That would have been bad for soccer, and anybody who says otherwise is a liar, a sadist, or a Paraguayan.

"It's articles like this that lead people to think of Americans as smug and ignorant."--teemonee11

There's no truth to the rumor that these guys are playing full-out.

As a Canadian, I'm glad to have furthered the stereotype that Americans are smug and ignorant, which of course they are.

"Just in case you ever decide to come to Paraguay, please use another name and change your face because at this time you are the most hated man in Paraguay."--eyebran

I'm actually going to add this to my bio: "Chris Jones is a writer-at-large for Esquire, a contributing editor at ESPN The Magazine and the most hated man in Paraguay."

"I hope that you get mad cow disease from our beef, or at least severe indigestion!!!"--viutors8

That doesn't seem like a very good advertisement for Paraguayan beef, which I've been told is pretty fantastic. I'm disappointed to learn otherwise.

"I believe there might be a great number of soccer fans out there that won't share your impression on the team, but your efforts will nevertheless be an important contribution to let the world know a little bit more about our beautiful country."--Ramon Anibal Iriarte Casco

Ramon, my friend, I appreciate that you signed your real name (and, coming from a guy named Chris Jones, might I say what a beautiful name it is). I also appreciate that you later wrote that you weren't being sarcastic, which I believe. I really did think that the story might be a way to let people know something about Paraguay, a country about which, I'm ashamed to admit, I knew very little. Now I've learned quite a lot. I've learned that Paraguayans love their country, are passionate about soccer (futbol) and have fierce and generous hearts. When I come to Paraguay, Ramon -- with a changed name and face -- I will find you, and we will eat steak and drink beer and have a good laugh together, I'm sure of it.

"You, Chris Jones, as an American, how proud are you of your team?"--Paraguay100

As a Canadian impersonating an American, I'm not proud of my team at all. Canada's soccer team is a national embarrassment. We've qualified for one World Cup, in 1986, when we scored exactly zero goals. We have five times as many people as Paraguay, far greater financial resources and a much easier World Cup qualification path. And yet Paraguay was in the quarterfinals and we aren't even here. Let me quote from my original story: "It's a remarkable accomplishment." It truly is, and I'm envious of it. But if Canada played the same way, I'd make fun of the Canadian team, too -- because if you can't laugh at yourself, who can you laugh at? I just hope one day I get that chance.

"Free time: read own articles and feel very proud of how funny, smart, and interesting he is, and how much attention he has sparkled (which he much needs to fill the void left by his high school experiences, when he was bullied for being overweight). Soon after that, falls into a deep depression and pops in some Zoloft."--mariana32004

Only my wife knows me this well. Thanks, "Mariana." And no, I will not be bringing milk home tonight.

"If given the chance, trust me, we'd be more than happy not only to drown you but also fry you in edible oils."--chris los un gringo (expletive deleted)

I sound delicious! Also, I like that your name is Chris, too -- what a coincidence!

"I feel a lot of anger and want to open your head and smash your brain with a hummer [sic] … PATIENCE, yes we have a lot of that."--GLORYTOPY

I've also learned that Paraguayans have split personalities.

"Having lived in Paraguay for 5 years, I would suggest that you take a trip there so that you may at least gain some knowledge of your subject. I would further suggest that you would find the Paraguayan people a lot more warm, kind and forgiving in nature than you have demonstrated yourself in the article."--losguaranis

I don't doubt that the Paraguayans are a lovely people -- apart from the occasional one who wants to open my head and smash my brain -- and I sincerely hope that I get the chance to visit one day. I've made my pledge to my friend Ramon, and I want very much to keep it. And if any other Paraguayan wishes to join us for dinner and teach me more about Paraguay -- Larissa Riquelme, I'm looking at you, a lot -- I'd be only too willing to listen. (You can also use the comments section to tell us more about yourselves, other than your hatred for me.) Although I know I've made a terrible first impression, I like to think that I'm not a bad guy, and that maybe this dialogue we've begun could lead to a greater understanding between our two nations, united by the belief that Americans are smug and ignorant.

"Canada is a land of wood and inedible oil products. A country where we recognize heart and root for the underdog."--CanadalovesParaguay

I couldn't have said it better myself. Canada loves wood, oil products -- both edible and inedible -- and most of all, Paraguay. I do, too. Just make me one promise, my dear Paraguayans. At the next World Cup, for which you will no doubt qualify, please at least try to score a few more goals, and in exchange, I'll write love letter after love letter to your beloved country. Until then, let me just say that I recognize your heart. I share your underdog spirit. And as I wrote in my original story, I wish you nothing but peace and prosperity.

Until we meet, and with more love and sincerity than ever before,
Chris Jones

Chris Jones is a contributing editor to ESPN The Magazine and a writer-at-large for Esquire.